We’ve become part of a community of people who serve those living on the margins of society in our hometown. Several times a week some of us hang around the downtown area, handing out lunches to the hungry and befriending and getting to know the people who live there. On Thursday evenings a couple of us open their home for a meal to which all are invited. These experiences have profoundly affected me, but more importantly they have profoundly affected some folks who were at or near life’s rock bottom.
A couple of weeks ago I was very happy when some of our friends we met on the street got up the courage to come to the dinner for the first time. I know it wasn’t easy, because they didn’t know what to expect. They probably feared it was the old church “bait-and-switch” trick in which people are told “Come as you are. God loves us just the way you are,” then once they’re in the door they’re made to feel ashamed. Maybe they feared they’d be preached at. Whatever those fears might have been, the beautiful truth is that all we do is enjoy a meal and fellowship together, without judgment.
From meeting them on the street I knew the “new” people who came are struggling with alcohol addiction, prostitution, homelessness, drug addiction and poverty. Our meal together is a potential part of a new beginning for them. At a minimum it should be a comforting, peaceful break from a brutal reality.
One young man who we met on the street a couple of months ago came for the first time. He’s just been released from jail and has nothing: no money, no clothes, no place to live. During his time in jail he read books for the first time in his life and he’s resolved to turn his life around. So our community not only fed him, we gave him some clothes, a sleeping bag and the other things in our “urban survival kit” for the homeless. He was moved and repeatedly said he’d never met anyone like us before. But all we did was offer simple, basic hospitality. How rare that is for some people. And that is a pity.
But it’s not all sweetness and light. Two of our friends continue to struggle and seemingly give back all the ground they’ve gained. One is in the grips of alcohol and the other crack cocaine. One takes what we give him and often uses it to get crack. He simply cannot shake the possession and we must face the painful reality that we might be enabling his behavior. That hurts.
But in our community there is charity and love. And so there is hope.
And enveloping it all, there is grace.