Once a month I team up with a church I don’t attend and travel to downtown Dallas to one of the homeless shelters to feed the hungry. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience it’s that homeless shelters will teach you so much about yourself, society, and your Christian walk. “ I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in ” (Matthew 25:35)
The first time I did it, it broke my heart and I tried to hide from these people because I realized just how blessed I was, and that made me feel incredibly guilty and ungrateful. I’ve got very little, but it’s still more than what the shelter residents have, and that’s a huge blessing! If someone looked at my life, they’d say I had hit rock bottom and started to dig. I’ve been downsized twice and had my credit ruined by the poor economic conditions in Texas ; it only got measurably worse with 75,000 additional people to contend with after Hurricane Katrina. So I’m branded unfairly as a lazy person because for each job, 160 applicants apply, and with bad credit, I’m an automatic theft risk (as unfair as that classification is). Instead of climbing the corporate ladder in the health insurance field after twelve years’ experience, I have been kicked off it. It is only by the grace of God and the help of an amazing friend I can only describe as a true gift, that I am not in one of these homeless shelters.
It is in that light I’m sensitive to those who are in the shelter due to corporate America ’s narrow, short sided, and discriminatory practices. There’s no such thing in today’s world as a second chance – ask someone who’s been released from prison after having paid their debt to society (they can’t get past the job wall, either despite tax breaks). We love to quip, “ America is the land of opportunity! Work hard and you can become somebody!” The problem is, when we push them off the ladder, we blame them for the gap in their resume’. I always wondered how many in the shelter were there for one of those two reasons. It’s always easy to blame it on drugs, alcohol, or some other reason, but the people I have met don’t always fit that stereotypical profile.
I have met many people in the homeless shelter and been blessed to have served meals to a lot grateful people. After two or three of these feedings, I got up the nerve to ask the leader of the group, “Why aren’t we evangelizing to these people?” His answer was simple, to the point, and yet disingenuous: “members of this church are not allowed to evangelize to the people per the pastor’s instructions.” I was flabbergasted! The pastor told them they couldn’t evangelize?? What theological school did he attend that he missed the command “ …’Go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to all the creation.’ ” (Mark 16:15)? I said to the group leader, “well, that doesn’t apply to me because I’m not part of your church, so I’m going to evangelize”. He smiled and told me to go for it, as he thumbed through my stack of gospel tracts.
People will tell you in order to evangelize you need to be a bold and powerful speaker…that’s a load of bull cookies. I stood there with my knees knocking, my heart racing, and my voice quivering. “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me!” (Phil 4:13) I repeated this scripture over and over again in my head, and asked God to use me. I stood in between hungry people and their food line, which might not have been the wisest decision. People did finally ask me, “Why are you doing this?” All I could say in return was, “Because I love you enough to want to make sure I see you in Heaven. It’s easy enough for me to feed you spaghetti and dessert, but who’s feeding your soul?” They were taken aback by the fact someone put their money where their mouth was and passed out gospel tracts and talked to them about eternity.
“Are you recruiting for your church?” one person snapped. “Nope. This isn’t my church at all, and no, I’m not recruiting for any church. I don’t want your money. I only want to make sure I see you in Heaven when the time comes. If I honesty didn’t love you, I’d only feed your stomach and ignore your soul.”
That rattled many people who didn’t know what to say. The next time I preached, I brought new gospel tracts they hadn’t seen before. This time, they came up to me to get them. The third time, they came running and I had a homeless resident helping me to pass them out. In three visits I have given out over a thousand gospel tracts and nearly created a riot with one in particular . A good gospel tract is like that – people will run up to you and beg for more.
Although I don’t have much to give, I do have the ability to give out and plant in conspicuous places, gospel tracts that will make people think, laugh and hopefully, change the direction in their lives. It’s not hard to plant tracts, either – it only takes a little bit of creativity. For instance, this gospel tract fits nicely in gas pump credit card slots (I wouldn’t try it in ATM machines because it shreds the card and since there’s a camera recording it, you potentially could be charged). If I’m in the drive up lanes and they have the suction carriers so they can service up to five or six lanes, when I’m done with my transaction, I slip big money tracts in (which cannot be misconstrued as passing counterfeit cash) so the car behind me gets something to read. When I go through drive up windows, I wrap this one up in the bills I had the cashier. I love to go to the post offices and leave these three tracts [ 1 ] [ 2 ] [ 3 ] behind for people to find. Sometimes I go into stores and leave this tract inside their money cards section because I know there’s always someone giving money cards as gifts. When I go out to a restaurant, I’ll leave several tucked inside different pages of the menus, and when the bill comes, I always slip a million dollar bill tract in with a regular tip. You could also resort to picking up the phonebook, picking addresses at random and mailing out a few each week. There’s no end to the creative ways in which you can paper the world with God’s Word.
In the end, the church I teamed up never did take up the evangelization call. They simply fell back on the classic excuse of, “we don’t feel led to do that”. I tried to get them involved, gave them tools, and tried to pull them over to at least hand out tracts while I preached. They couldn’t be bothered. One woman said to me, “I can’t commit to anything right now.” It took all the Christian love inside me to not say, “I’m not asking for a regular commitment, I’m asking you to help me NOW, not next time!”
I made several CD’s with evangelization material from my favorite ministry (“duplication encouraged” is their motto, so I’m not pirating) and paired each CD with A Letter From an Atheist hoping that would move them into action. I had given a couple of copies to a receptionist who was supposed to give it to the pastor as well as handed copies to several prominent members of the shelter feeding team, who seemed to enthusiastically welcome a root canal over the prospect of sharing their faith. Considering nothing came from them in subsequent visits, I can semi-assume they went into the trash.
What good is it if you’ve got the love of God in your heart and soul, but you’re gripped with fear? “ For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. ” (2 Tim 1:7)
If you’re a Christian and reading this, what’s the comfortable excuse you use for not spreading God’s word when you’ve been blessed with so much? The poorest in society aren’t always the homeless; there are many very rich and spiritually bankrupt souls in this world. Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, once said (paraphrasing) that if you’re not on fire for the lost in this world, be sure you’re not saved yourself. Does that scare you enough to go to the least in this world and share the great wealth of the Lord’s love? If not, what would it take for you to obey His command? “ And why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? ” (Luke 6:46)