What exactly is involved in being a friend to the homeless? Am I being asked to surrender all my possessions? Will I have to give up my privacy and security? No, not at all (at least, not much). Being a friend to the homeless isn’t all that different from having any other friend who might have more needs than most. Perhaps you won’t gain a lot of support from your friend. At the same time, however, you might be surprised at how insightful your friend is!
Christian ministry to the homeless:
• is about building trust. We want to develop a positive, trusting relationship with our street friend, despite all the obstacles which hinder that trust.
• involves learning. Our street friends have a different way of life and a different way of thinking about life. We need to be in a position to learn their thinking rather than criticize it. If we learn the way our street friend thinks, we will be in a better position to help them.
• requires listening. The most important thing we can do is help our street friend know that they are important -- enough for us to hear their trials, difficulties and emotions.
• is supportive. When our friends on the street are down, we want to encourage them. When they are in crisis, we want to give suggestions for solutions; many times they don’t know what to do.
• makes connections. We want to let our friends on the street know about those who might help them. Some of them will give them survival support, while others will supply counsel or wisdom. We also need to keep in regular contact with our street friends, and go out to do things with them, such as eating together, doing something helpful together or just having fun.
• provides opportunities. We need to provide opportunities for change or help so that our street friends know what the possibilities are and how they can take advantage of them.
• offers mediation. We can offer to communicate between our street friend and others who might be trying to understand them, but with difficulty. If we have listened well, we might understand our street friend better than the social workers or doctors who have been assigned to them. Sometimes we have to explain what our street friend means, in a language the workers can understand.
• is empowering. Our support and listening, in fact, all that we do, is geared toward helping our street friend do what they need to do themselves. We don’t want to be doing things for them, as if they were a child, but give them the opportunity to help themselves be who God wants them to be.
• involves prayer. We must pray for our street friend regularly, allowing God to hear the needs and cries of one for whom no one else is praying.
The Christian minister to the homeless is not:
• a mentor. To be a “mentor”, many people believe, is to assume that we are running our own lives perfectly and, thus, we are helping “the helpless” get their lives straightened out. We need to be humble, recognizing our own failings and our own position as a peer, not a leader.
• a parent. We cannot be a replacement mother or father for our street friend. We are not there to command or to provide for them. We are there to support, not to be an authority.
• a police officer. It is not our task to punish or judge our street friend if they do something self destructive or illegal. We should certainly encourage them not to go on a path of self destruction, but we want to be the agent of God’s grace, not judgment.
• a housing supervisor. We are not to tell our street friend how to live, how to keep their house or who they let stay with them. We can, however, make suggestions, give our own opinions, and then pray, allowing God’s Spirit to speak to them.
• a policy provider. We are not there to make rules for our street friend. But we may encourage them to establish their own rules that make sense to them.
• a judge. If someone thinks differently than we do, it is not our job to determine what their relationship to God is. We allow God to speak to them and just encourage our friend to seek God.
• an enabler. We do not want to provide the means for our street friend to do something against God or against those they know. If we provide money thoughtlessly or help our friend destroy themselves, then we are not being a minister, but a destructive agent, even if it feels that we are “helping” them.
• Jesus. We cannot save our street friend, or determine the means by which they must be saved. Jesus is the only One who saves, and the Spirit is His representative to all people. We must allow the Spirit to do His work, while we provide support for what the Spirit is doing in our street friend’s life.