“I was homeless and you took me in…”
As the worshipers arrived for church in a small town one Sunday morning, they were met by a rather disturbing sight. An apparently homeless beggar sat on the front steps of the church, wearing tattered clothing, a wool cap pulled down over his eyes, and clutching a bottle in fingerless gloves. They had never seen anything quite like this in their town.
Most worshipers simply walked around the man, or stepped over him, as he sat there. Some muttered words of disapproval, and others suggested that the man move to another doorway before the Sunday school children arrived. One member told the man, in no uncertain terms, that the Salvation Army was a more appropriate place to sleep it off. At one point, a kind woman brought the man a Styrofoam cup of hot coffee, but not one person asked the man to come in out of the cold, and certainly nobody invited him in to join them in worship.
Imagine, then, the people’s surprise during the entrance hymn, when their homeless friend made his way into the pulpit and took off his cap. The people recognized that it was their pastor! The pastor began his remarks that morning in this way: “I didn’t do this to embarrass you or to poke you in the eye. I did it to remind us that this is a person that Jesus loves, and he has called us to love him, too.”
There is much that we as Christians can do to ease the plight of the homeless. One of the main causes of homelessness is war and strife that forces people to flee for their lives. They often end up in refugee camps where the conditions are not always ideal. Throughout history, Christians have responded by welcoming refugees into their homes and countries. For example, several years ago a local church sponsored refugee families from Vietnam on a couple of different occasions. While these families did eventually leave the area to settle in larger centres to be closer to people from their own country and culture, the members of the church can take some pride in the fact that they did what they could to help.
Sometimes dealing with refugees and the victims of conflict involves personal sacrifice. A good example is the life of Raoul Wallenberg. He was a Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving the lives of at least 100,000 Jews in Budapest, Hungary during World War II. He did this by issuing fake Swedish protective passes. Because Sweden was a neutral country during the war, these passes were recognized and accepted by the Nazis even though they had no real value under international law.
Raoul Wallenberg paid the ultimate price for his actions. In January 1945, after the Soviet Army liberated Hungary, he requested and received permission to visit the Soviet military headquarters. He never arrived, and he was never seen again. To this day his disappearance remains a mystery. The official Russian position was that he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy for the United States. The Russian government even claimed as late as 2001 that he died of a heart attack in 1947 in prison in Moscow. Other stories state that he was executed.
If you drive through the low income areas of any community, the lack of affordable housing becomes apparent. There are homes that are neat and well-kept, but there are also homes that are in a state of disrepair because the owners are either unable and/or unwilling to have the necessary repairs done. If they are unable to have the needed work done, it is often because they can’t afford to do so. While there are government programs available that are designed to assist with housing repairs, often times low income homeowners are either unaware of them or they can’t understand the paperwork involved or they can’t navigate the “red tape”.
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian ministry that puts God’s love in action by bringing people together to build low-cost, single family housing. Several years ago Habitat for Humanity International’s CEO Jonathan Reckford wrote:
The sum of our work is truly greater than any one part of our equation. In building homes and communities, Habitat welcomes all partners—churches, civic groups, corporations, governments, and individuals. From securing property rights for homeowners to encouraging the provision of the necessary infrastructure to build shelter, Habitat works with governments around the world. Habitat also strives to deepen existing relationships and initiate new partnerships with local churches, denominations, and faith organizations. We believe that adequate housing is foundational for improving the lives of families and that housing is as important to community health as it is to individual health. One of our strengths is the ability to bring together the public, private, and nonprofit sectors—including the church—to change lives and transform communities.
Programs like Habitat for Humanity do help, but they can only do so much. The various levels of government also have roles to play, but at the same time they can only do so much because their resources are not limitless.
God calls us to honour our fathers and mothers, and he is not referring just to our biological parents. He is referring to all of our elders, especially our senior citizens. Seniors deserve to live with dignity in their golden years, and one way they often choose to do so is by selling their existing homes, especially if it is costly for them to live in their existing homes because of fixed incomes. In addition, a larger home is no longer necessary once adult children have left home.
There were plans to create a retirement community in the area where I live, but so far these plans have not become a reality. In the meantime, the situation has to be addressed. Some seniors have solved the problem by having adult children living with them, and my mother was no exception. I lived at home for most of my adult life because of my mother’s age-related health issues. While having adult children living at home or having live-in caregivers is a solution, it is not without its own set of problems, such as the stress involved in caring for elderly parents. Thank goodness some nursing homes and retirement homes have recognized this and offer respite care and adult day care programs.
So what can we as Christians do to address these issues? Lobbying our elected officials for more retirement homes and affordable housing is a start. Such initiatives would also go a long way toward easing the employment situation in the area, both in the short term and the long term. We can also help in other ways. For example, we can help low income homeowners understand the paperwork involved in applying for government grants to make repairs to their homes. We can also offer to spend time with senior citizens who have adult children as live-in caregivers so that the children can have a much-needed break. We can also volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity home-building project or donate money or other resources.
These are just some suggestions-the possibilities are endless. Whatever we do, we serve God. When we serve those who do not have adequate housing, we serve God, and when we serve others, the focus shifts from self to selfless. Jesus himself said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me”.
Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth has never been withdrawn — nor will it be withdrawn until He comes again. His final words to his disciples in Mark 16:15 were absolutely clear: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”. Missionaries today carry out Christ’s command in many ways, not only by preaching the Gospel but by demonstrating Christ’s love and compassion to those in need. Jesus said in Matthew 10:42 that we serve Him even when we give “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones”.
God asks us to give our lives to him and serve him by serving others. We say to them, “God loves you and so do I”. We can reduce poverty. On Judgment Day, we will be judged by how we lived our lives and whether or not we loved others like Christ loves us. If we are currently showing God’s love to others, we must continue what we are doing. If not, we must change our ways. There is an old saying- “shape up or ship out”. If we don’t shape up, God will ship us out-and we won’t like the place he will ship us out to!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Sheila Schuller Coleman, “Got a Dime to Spare?” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
- Pastor Steve Molin, “What the Saints Do”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Jim Coleman, “Eliminate Negative Thinking”. Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
- Dr. Robert Heerspink, “Finding Jesus”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
- Diana Swift, “The War on Poverty”. Retrieved from www.anglicanjournal.com
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
- Jamieson Fawcett Brown Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
- Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
- Jonathan Reckford, “We Can’t Do Everything”. Retrieved from www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=95691
- Jewish Virtual Library, “Raul Wallenberg: 1912-? “. Retrieved from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/wallenberg.html#efforts
- Rachel Oestreicher Bernheim, “Raoul Wallenberg: A Hero for Our Time”. Retrieved from www.raulwallenberg.org/raulwallenberg_aheroforourtime.htm.html
- Billy Graham, “Why Do We Still Need Missionaries?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com/religionandspirituality/billygraham/s-1097039?print