Moving to Texas to attend seminary, I assumed class lectures would serve as the main catalyst in rousing my spirituality and defining my ministry goals. And while they have met my expectations, the biggest change in my life came from how I now spend my Friday nights at the local homeless shelter.
A professor challenged us in class one day to come downtown on a Friday evening and volunteer for the “Life Skills” classes conducted by his ministry, OurCalling. I took him up on it.
The experience turned inside out everything I thought about a homeless ministry.
Instead of raining down sunshine and rainbows like a typical self-help seminar, the classes present the bold truth of authentic life change coming from Christ alone. The topics start out as something like “Anger Management” or “Building Healthy Relationships,” but ultimately Wayne Walker, my professor and the founder of the ministry, strips everything down to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This message continues to draw in people like my new friends James, Maggie and Lisa* each week.
On my first night there I met James, a kind, gentle Santa Claus-looking man who can make anyone laugh. James has not seen his family in more than 20 years, yet he still longs for those relationships. He suffers from a learning disability and abandonment issues and can work only menial jobs.
On my fourth week I met Maggie, a fiery woman who lost her job and could no longer make rent. After a few months of living in her car she finally decided to move to the shelter downtown. Due to depression, Maggie struggles to hold any type of real employment.
I also befriended Lisa, whose ice blue eyes hide well the pain she tries so hard to release. Lisa told me that after running out of places to stick a heroine needle, she paid a prostitute $50 to teach her to smoke crack because she desperately wanted to shut out the memories of her childhood sexual abuse.
These three, along with so many others I met, have changed my perception of people I used to avoid on the street. They simply have lost their hope, or had none to begin with. OurCalling works to change this.
Many homeless ministries start out to reach people like James, Maggie and Lisa for Christ; unfortunately the extreme physical needs of the homeless tend to bury the spiritual ones. OurCalling wants to flip this upside down. They believe when you help someone find identity in Christ you give them hope and self-worth. And in turn, possessing these gifts can give them the power to make better decisions about their physical circumstances.
At first the many needs overwhelmed me with a sense of helplessness, yet my experience with OurCalling taught me to see the situation differently. Only Jesus fulfills the role of savior, not me. The classes and Bible studies held by OurCalling, assist the broken in seeing themselves how their heavenly Father sees them. Their lives now have meaning because of the love of Christ. And I get the privilege of walking with them along this journey.
Lisa shared during a Bible study that this was her Girls Night Out. She watched women bond over dinner and girl talk on television but never experienced that herself. She never had girlfriends. Now she understands what it means to have sisters in Christ, and OurCalling gave her that.
Physical needs still exist; however, the knowledge of a foundation in Christ provides power—the power to say “no” to drugs, alcohol or prostitution and say “yes” to a helping hand. Instead of begging for dimes, my new friends obtain the self-worth to seek the job training, counseling or the addiction recovery they desperately need.
Before I experienced this ministry, I asked Wayne why he does what he does, and he told me: “Because you don’t. Depravity sucks, and I have seen the trail of damage left by it. Thousands of lost people live within a mile of you in any direction. Some make a choice to stay on the streets, but most do not.” This rattled the core of my beliefs about ministry. It is our calling to care for and disciple the lost, the broken down and the ones living on the streets. And sometimes fulfilling the call means doing so much more than offering blankets and soup.
Maggie, James and Lisa continue to live at the shelter, however, they regularly attend church and a Bible study, and more importantly they consider themselves children of God. This ministry lives out what its founder so firmly believes—that “missions do not require a passport.”