A Child’s Perspective on Homelessness by Edith Yoder

Today’s post in the series  Return to Our Senses in Lent is excerpted from a newsletter I recently received from my friend Edith Yoder Executive Director of Bridge of Hope, a ministry which provides a church based approach to ending homelessness. I was so touched by the video in this post that I wanted to share it with all of you.

“It shouldn’t be this hard and I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong.”  These are the words of Kim Ahern, a single mom facing homelessness who’s featured in this powerful video from the Seattle Times entitled “A child’s perspective on homelessness.”

In 2010, Kim moved from Chicago to Seattle because she heard of job opportunities there.  When housing fell through, Kim, her 9-year-old son Jack, and their Cockapoo Gracie lived in the King County tent city.  Kim explains, “I wish I had Jack’s imagination – without the zombies.”

Kim used the 211 directory to look for housing options and felt that she kept “hitting a wall” until St. Vincent de Paul referred her to Blessed Sacrament.  She and Jack were provided with a room and a shared kitchen and bathroom.

Kim spent two months applying for jobs, but wondered what she would do about childcare.  “Everyone wants $10-$12/hour and I can’t pay out all I’m making.”  She explains that she and Jack dream at night about a new home and furniture.   “It’s fun to dream but everything’s on hold.  It’s a waiting game.”

My dream for Kim and Jack and families facing homelessness is Bridge of Hope mentoring friends from a local church.

A mentoring group could look at Jack’s “furniture map” and help to make it a reality.  Mentoring friends could provide childcare while Kim interviews for jobs.  Bridge of Hope staff would provide temporary rental assistance and help Kim to find a job (and job training if needed) so that she can meet expenses for housing, food, childcare, etc.

Please contact me if your church or agency would like to make this dream a reality for a family like Kim, Jack and Gracie. “It shouldn’t be this hard and I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong.”  These are the words of Kim Ahern, a single mom facing homelessness who’s featured in this powerful video from the Seattle Times entitled “A child’s perspective on homelessness.”

In 2010, Kim moved from Chicago to Seattle because she heard of job opportunities there.  When housing fell through, Kim, her 9-year-old son Jack, and their Cockapoo Gracie lived in the King County tent city.  Kim explains, “I wish I had Jack’s imagination – without the zombies.”

Kim used the 211 directory to look for housing options and felt that she kept “hitting a wall” until St. Vincent de Paul referred her to Blessed Sacrament.  She and Jack were provided with a room and a shared kitchen and bathroom.

Kim spent two months applying for jobs, but wondered what she would do about childcare.  “Everyone wants $10-$12/hour and I can’t pay out all I’m making.”  She explains that she and Jack dream at night about a new home and furniture.   “It’s fun to dream but everything’s on hold.  It’s a waiting game.”

My dream for Kim and Jack and families facing homelessness is Bridge of Hope mentoring friends from a local church.

A mentoring group could look at Jack’s “furniture map” and help to make it a reality.  Mentoring friends could provide childcare while Kim interviews for jobs.  Bridge of Hope staff would provide temporary rental assistance and help Kim to find a job (and job training if needed) so that she can meet expenses for housing, food, childcare, etc.

Please contact me if your church or agency would like to make this dream a reality for a family like Kim, Jack and Gracie.

 

Tracy Howe’s song Stranger used in The Work of the People Video.

A few weeks ago I blogged about Tracy Howe’s new album Hold Onto Love.  I have just discovered that another of her songs ‘Stranger’ (from the 2006 album Worship/Bring Me Some Peace) is used in this powerful video from the great folks at The Work of the People and Alter Video Magazine. I love Tracy’s music and the compelling images that she creates.  This is a very powerful video and the music compliments it beautifully.  Enjoy! (The videos can be ordered/downloaded for use in liturgies and services for many communities of faith).

You can check it out here

Take Off Your Shoes – by Edith Yoder

This morning’s post comes from Edith Yoder Executive Director of Bridge of Hope an organization which has always impressed me tremendously.  Their mission is ending and preventing homelessness in your community . . .one church and one family at a time.  I was really impressed with the practical suggestions that Edith has for ways to help us become more aware of the plight of those who are homeless.  And this seems such a timely reminder as I think that homelessness is likely to become more of a challenge in the future.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

In this recent episode of Secret Millionaire there is a scene that really demonstrates “seeing.”

John, the Secret Millionaire, is with a hat shop owner, Amin, who takes donated clothing and hygiene kits to the homeless.   John is amazed that many people take only one item.

Most moving to John is when Amin gives the shoes off his own feet to a homeless man using a walker.  The older man explains that he was sleeping when someone went to the bathroom near his shoes.  He asks, “How did you know these were just what I needed?”  Amin explains that he saw that the man needed new shoes.

The theme of this year’s Bridge of Hope conference is “Walking in Another’s Shoes: Seeing, Naming and Acting.”  Our theme was inspired by the book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor by Mark Labberton.  Board and staff members from Bridge of Hope affiliates and sites will gather in October for training, networking and encouragement.

We will attempt to “walk in the shoes” of homeless women and children, especially via a poverty simulation and pre-conference seminar.  I invite you to try (this month) one of these ways to “walk in another’s shoes”:

  • Feed yourself/family for $3 per person per day for three days.
  • When your gas tank needs to be filled, find an alternate form of transportation because you “don’t have money for gas.”  Take public transportation, walk, bike, call a friend for a ride or borrow money, or even cancel your plans.
  • Be homeless – sleep in your car, pitch a tent in your or someone else’s yard, or bunk on a friend’s couch.  If you are married and/or have children, include them and spend time talking together about your experience.  You might consider sleeping in your clothes, not using a pillow, a blanket, or a toothbrush.

Recently I came across one of my favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush

Aflame with God,

But only those who see

Take off their shoes

The rest stand around

And pick blackberries.”

Perhaps if we took off our shoes more often and saw the bush aflame (God at work), we would find the space in our lives to try on one another’s shoes and see things from each other’s perspective.

Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in this synchroblog initiated by Kathy Escobar.  Her challenge to us was:

Marginalization results in an individual’s exclusion from meaningful participation in society and it’s source is many. Economic circumstances, illness, disability, geographical location, gender, sexuality, race, religion are all dominant sources of individuals being marginalized. Sometimes it’s easy to see holidays or certain systems from a position of power or privilege. * As God’s people, what does it mean to see the world through the eyes of the marginalized?

What I realize is that it is very difficult for me to see through the eyes of the marginalized because I have never really been in that position.  Yes I have been poor, and yes I have lived simply for most of life but those have been deliberate choices.  I have always had a back door out.  As a physician I could always have found a well paying job and rapidly moved myself back into the upper middle class lifestyle with which I grew up.

I was thinking about this today as I read Sean Gladding’s book The Story of God, The Story of Us, a very powerful story based telling of the Biblical story from creation to the coming of Christ.  Today I was reading about the time of the kings.

Sean begins this chapter with the story of the building of the temple – not as a triumphant worshipful act towards God but as an enslavement of the people of Israel by Solomon who was busily accumulating wealth and power for himself.  So often when we read this story, we filter it through the distorted values of our consumerist, middle class way of life.  But what if like Sean does in his book and like Kathy encourages us to do in her question, we saw Solomon and the building of the temple through the eyes of the marginalized, those who were conscripted to build the temple as forced labour.

Sean comments: if we are to be faithful to the covenant then we must beware of falling into the same three things that marked Solomon’s reign:

an economic affluence in which we become so well off that both the pain around us and the pain we cause others are not noticiced;

a politics of oppression in which the cries of the marginal are not heard or are silenced

a static religion, in which God has no other business than to maintain our standard of living, and whose prophets we try to silence when they speak words we do not want to hear.

To see through the eyes of the marginalized we must first acknowledge our own sin and the indifference and sometimes even hostility with which we confront them.  We benefit so much from the slaves of our society – the illegal immigrants who pick our fruit and staff our restaurants, the minimum wage workers who work 2 or 3 jobs and still don’t earn enough to support their families and those in distant lands who grow our food and sew our clothes.

They too are building our temples and enabling us to accumulate yet more power and prestige.  And on top of that we so often despise them because they can’t accumulate what we have and can’t pull themselves out of the pits that we so often have dug for them.

So how do we see through the eyes of the marginalized?  To be honest I am not sure.  But I do know that I need to begin by constantly reminding myself of those at the margins, talking to them, sharing meals and hospitality with them.  And for those that are more distant I know that I need to encourage them by raising my voice to make sure they are paid a fair wage and given the opportunity to get educated as I have been.

None of us can create a society that is just and fair but we can all take steps that move us in that direction.  The season of Advent and Christmas is a great time to do more than just think about this.  It is a great time to get down and get ourselves involved just as God did with the birth of Christ.

Here are some more posts to check out

Here are a few more posts to check out:

George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt

Arthur Stewart – The Bank

Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate

Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins

Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized

Minnow – Just Out of Sight

Kathy Escobar – Sitting At the Rickety Card Table In theFamily Room For Thanksgiving Dinner

Liz Dyer – Stepping Away From the Keyhole

 

Open My Eyes I Want to See Jesus

This morning one of the songs we sang in our worship time was Open My eyes Lord I Want to See Jesus, a song that I usually enjoy singing.  However as I sat amongst urban workers who work amongst the street people, the drug addicts and alcoholics, the at risk youth of London and other English cities. As I looked at these people who are all struggling with work overload and facing cutbacks to their funding, I was caught short – Do I really want to see Jesus? I wondered.

Yes I love the images of Jesus the loving and caring one, the healing and comforting one, the redeeming and renewing one.  But I realized this morning that there are other images of Jesus I am far less comfortable with –

Jesus the lamb who was slain, the despised and abandoned one, the neglected and forgotten one, the tortured and wounded one who is present in the lives and faces of all those who live on the streets.  Jesus the weeping  and mourning one who is present in the faces of so many overworked urban workers who feel abandoned and despised by their governments and often church leadership as well.  Do I really want to see this Jesus and if so how do I respond?

Where is Jesus in Your Neighbourhood?

Yesterday as I was driving to a local church to speak, I passed a homeless man standing on the street corner.  That was not unusual.  The corner he stood at was a popular place for the destitute to beg.  His face was hidden by  a sign that read Homeless and Hungry. That wasn’t unusual either.  As the impact of the recession continues, more people are being driven onto the streets to live.  What was unusual was that the sign was written in seven different languages.

My first response was to want to reach for my camera which unfortunately I did not have with me.  But then I started to think.  This man obviously knows the neighbourhood far better than I do.  He knows who lives in the area and how to communicate with them.  He knows where and when people are likely to be generous.   He probably also knows where he can get a meal and shelter for the night.  And I am sure he is very aware of who will show a little compassion and who is more likely to respond in anger and hostility.

The church I was heading for on the other hand seemed to know very little about their neighbourhood.  Not only were they unaware of the man that stood on the corner only a few hundred yards from their door, they were also unaware of the rich ethnic diversity that surrounded them and certainly had little desire to reach out and encounter that diversity.  Not surprisingly this church was shrinking.  And the parishioners were withdrawing in fear and denial, talking about removing the last row of pews so that the seats did not look so empty.

We live in a strange world when the homeless are better acquainted with their world and can respond better to changes and transitions than the church does.  Yet maybe it shouldn’t surprise us.  The church is good at setting up walls that tell the world – “This is as far as I am willing to go”.

As I mentioned in a previous post – God took the Hebrews out into the desert in order to teach them the freedom of living for God alone.  Out into the desert was away from the walls of Egypt – not just the walls of their own oppression and suffering, but also the walls of a culture that didn’t even notice the slaves that tended to their comfort and was indifferent to their suffering.  It was in this desert place that God showed those that would become known as “children of God” a way of life that was both more human and more divine.

The desert experience gave birth to a new set of laws that spelled out a new way of living that was both more human and more divine.  These laws presented God’s people with new principles of morality, new social disciplines that emphasized mutual responsibility, new agricultural practices that respected the earth and a new economic system that encouraged generosity not acquisition.

Like us, the children of Israel found it hard to follow these laws and made them into legalistic rules and regulations.  So God sent Jesus to show us not in words but in deeds and actions how we were meant to live in order to be fully human and to fully represent the image of God.

One of this morning’s scripture readings was the story of the mustard seed which is the smallest of seeds but grows to provide a place for birds to nest.  (Mark 4:31, 32).  It is a beautiful picture not just of who Christ is, but of who we are meant to become.  God has planted mustard seeds in all our hearts that are meant to grow into huge plants that protect and shelter those in our neighbourhoods that are suffering and marginalized.

So maybe, like me you would like to grapple with the following questions during this season of Lent: “What are the walls that separate me from the world that God calls me to be a part of?”  What do I need to learn in this desert time and place that will enable me to be both more human and more like the image of God?  What will it take for me too to become aware of my neighbourhood (both local and global) and the suffering that is a part of it?  How do I really follow Jesus in these volatile times in which we live?

Loving the Unloveable

I was just reading an article this morning about the wildlife we like to attract to our garden.  It talked about the fact that all of us love to see nice furry creatures like squirrels and winged creature like colourful birds and buuterflies out our windows.  We tend to ignore the destructiveness of some of these creatures – the racoons and deer that eat an entire row of corn in the night for example.  After all they look so cute while they devour our favourite plants.  Most of us are not so keen on the less loveable creatures – the stinging, slithery and slimy critter like toads and snakes and spiders.  They make some of us shudder just to think about them. Ironically these are the creatures that we most need in the garden.

When it comes to preventing damage to your garden, however, these critters are the ones you want visiting.  Snakes, frogs, carnivorous lizards, wasps and eetles help keep the true pests in check.”

As I thought about this I could not help but think about the similarities to the church.  What makes a healthy church?  We love to attract the well dressed and the wealthy.  We love to attract the energetic and the likeable people.  We are not so keen on the outcasts – the mentally ill, the homeless, the disabled.  Yet so often it is those that look good on the outside who do the most damage in the church.  A pretty face and a well packed wallet can easily disguise a deeply broken personality that suddenly erupts in broken relationships and destructive behaviour.  The perfect pastor or church elder who is suddenly caught in an adulterous relationship.  With the outcasts we are often aware of the sins and the brokenness right up front.  And they scare us because as a result of their own brokenness they are able to see through our facades.  They know our churches are not healthy, they know the well dressed are as broken as they are.  It amazes me how transparent my struggles are to those who are often ostracized and disregarded by the church.  Maybe that is part of the reason for our rejection.  We don’t want to face up to the areas in which God still needs to transform us and unfortunately in the process we turn away the very people that can make our churches healthy.

Just as the garden needs the stinging, slithering wasps and reptiles so our churches need the homeless and the marginalized.  We need the broken and disabled people in our midst to enable us to confront and eradicate the real pests both in our own lives and in the life of the church.