By Daniel Storey
When I was introduced to homeless outreach, I was warned that positive results were few and far between. In Hong Kong, I attend a weekly outreach in a large park where dozens of homeless take shelter. In the time I’ve been there many faces have come and gone. In most cases I’m not sure where people who leave end up, but I distinctly recall three people who died. I only recall one person who I’m certain went on to receive housing.
Recalling examples of people who have found faith is also difficult. There are a few encouraging exceptions. One outreach volunteer used to be homeless himself but now has housing, a family, strong faith and great compassion for those in his past condition. A few women from low-income families who volunteer also believe, although their struggles with mental health and frequent arguments make their faith difficult to see.
When compared to numerous others for whom positive changes have not been forthcoming, these encouraging exceptions seem to pale into insignificance.
However, the point of outreach has never been positive results. Many of the volunteers have been coming consistently for much longer than me, and Brother Chau, who leads the outreaches, has been doing so for over 10 years. He would say that the reason for outreach is that God loves the homeless and has commanded us to serve them regardless of how they receive His love and whether positive changes occur in their lives.
In this way, homeless outreach has taught me about God’s unconditional love. People on the street are often rejected by society and so far gone from normalcy that they feel hopeless about the future. In this sense they are very different to us, but in a greater sense we are very similar. We are all justly rejected by God for our sins and are so far gone in our sinfulness that we are powerless to earn our way back into God’s good books. Their reality on a social level is our shared reality on a spiritual level. Despite our sinfulness, God loves us and offers us a path to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). He continues to love no matter how unlovable we are and however long it takes for us to love Him back, even if we never do. Our persistence in showing up for outreach and serving the homeless with or without positive results is a small reflection of the unconditional and boundless love God has for them.
Outreach has also taught me that the gospel is the greatest gift we can offer anyone. On outreach, what we offer the homeless in practical terms is very negligible, often no more than a drink and a light snack. At first glance, our presence seems pointless in the face of serious problems like poverty, unemployment, addiction, mental illness, family estrangement and so on. However, our shared spiritual reality with the homeless also means that we share a fundamental need – salvation from the power of sin and the just condemnation of God. We all need the Bread of Life more than the food that perishes (John 6:27) and the building from God more than the earthly tent that passes away (2 Corinthians 5:1). This does not diminish the importance of meeting the physical needs of the homeless, but it means that whether we can help physically or not, we have something to give. In Acts 3:6, Peter says to a lame beggar, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Our greatest gift to the homeless is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which may or may not change their immediate circumstances, but will fulfil their fundamental need of salvation and secure their eternal life and joy.
We have a lot in common with the homeless. They are like us but with less cosmetics, and their material poverty is a reflection of the spiritual poverty we all share. The response this should stir in us is captured in the humble words of pastor Mick Fleming which I heard this morning on the news: “I love the poor, because I know I am the poor, and as long as I breathe, I’ll serve the poor.” I will close with a simple rendition of the gospel which we all desperately need. God created us in His image that He might be glorified in our reflection of His character and our satisfaction in His provision (Genesis 1:27). But all of us have rebelled against God and sinned by failing to love, trust, thank, treasure or obey Him as we ought (Romans 3:23). Therefore, we deserve and are destined for eternal punishment for our sins, yet in His boundless mercy, God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to bear our punishment in His death (Romans 6:23). On the third day, He rose from the dead, so that all who believe in Him as Lord and Saviour receive forgiveness for their sins and eternal life in the kingdom of God, welcomed as His beloved children (Romans 10:9).
Daniel is a second year studying Psychology at Queens College.
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