Learning from the Homeless

Homeless, park bench, Photo Cred: Jim Fischer, Creative Commons
Photo Cred: Jim Fischer, Creative Commons

My wife pokes fun at me because I have a knack for being stopped by people in parking lots. It’s often the homeless or someone needing a quick buck. I’m not sure what it is about me (maybe it’s the beard) but it’s almost as if people wait for me.

So it should have been no surprise a few weeks ago that a man came shouting and running toward me in the parking lot as I was leaving the store. He ran past half a dozen other people and even cut across traffic just to get to me. It was obvious he was homeless. His clothes were stained, tattered, and he was dressed in multiple layers.

“Hey man…” he said, placing his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath, “can you get me something?” He looked down, overwhelmed, winded, and ashamed.

“I don’t carry cash,” I said, “but what do you need it for?”

He shook his head at my response. “I haven’t eaten all day and I’m starving. Just get me whatever you’re getting,” he said pointing to the grocery store on the other end of the parking lot. I wasn’t even going there.

“I don’t need anything from the grocery store, what do you want?” I asked him. He just stared at me blankly. The homeless are used to being invisible. I remember a homeless man telling me in college to simply acknowledge them — ask their name. So I approached this man, shook his hand, and asked him his name.

It was Leon.

“Look Leon, I honestly have no cash to give you, but I want to help you get something to eat. What do you want me to get for you?”

He looked at the ground to think for a second, glanced around the parking lot, contemplating the array of options that surrounded him. Then his face lit up. Gasping with excitement he asked, “Could I have Chiptole?”

“Is that what YOU want?”

“Oh man! Yes. Can I get a burrito bowl with whatever is the cheapest on top? I don’t want to take your money.”

I laughed, “Leon, it’s an honor to be able to buy you a meal. What do you really want on your burrito bowl?” He proceeded to tell me the array of toppings he wanted of steak, peppers, beans, every kind of salsa, and “If it’s not too much, could I get guacamole?”

And so Leon and I walked to Chipotle to get him some dinner.

When I walked out of the restaurant, I saw him on the corner talking with another man. I approached them both, handed Leon his dinner, and introduced myself to the other man. His name was James.

James was also homeless but he openly attributed his circumstances to the choices he made in life. Without directly saying it, James admitted to heavy substance abuse at one point. Believe it or not, the community of men and women he met on the street helped him straighten up his life and find God. After a few minutes of conversation, I said my goodbyes and promised these men continued prayer — a promise I’ve kept.

It should have been no surprise to me, but right before I walked away, Leon looked at James and asked, “are you hungry, brother?” James stared into the distance and then exclaimed, “yeah!”

“Then I want you to come eat this meal with me.”

And with that, Leon draped his arm around James’ shoulder and they left. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in awhile.

Homelessness in Atlanta

Where I live in Atlanta, homelessness affects over 10,000 people in the metro area every night. Shelters in the surrounding counties are operating at capacity and still coming up short. Over 40% of the homeless are women and children, the average age of the homeless falling around nine-years-old. So according to statistics, my new friends were actually an anomaly.

The Takeaway

It’s easy to see the lesson here: share your blessings.

I’ve shared this before, but I find it more interesting that it’s harder for a community of people who live in an affluent society (us) to give things up and share them than it is for those who are less affluent, like the homeless. They have next-to-nothing and they’re willing to give up the deliciousness that is Chipotle in order to see their “family” survive, or at least to have something to fill their stomach with.

Our church communities in America need to learn to share their blessings.

This starts with you and it starts with me. We have a plethora of resources at our fingertips and we have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to share them. If so, how? I have a few quick tips.

Ideas for Sharing Your Blessings

1. The No Cash Principle

I know people who argue against this, but this is a principle I subscribe to for a variety of reasons. Not every person is going to abuse your cash gift, but the reality is that some do. Sometimes I’ll buy gift cards to fast food restaurants or grocery stores and hand those out. But most of the time, I’ll ask what someone needs and get it for them.

This is often an inconvenience, but love isn’t convenient. Plus, it challenges your comfort… and I like doing things like that.

2. Tithe and Donate to Charities

Did you know that only 10-25% of the church tithes its money? And even those that do only tithe an average of two percent? That’s pretty ridiculous. Money doesn’t solve every problem, but there are a lot of churches and non-profits that are strapped for cash.

If the estimated 150,000 Christians in Atlanta tithed ten percent of their income, each church would have over $8,000 every week to go toward expenses and ministries in need. Is your wallet open to investing toward the transformative purposes of the kingdom? Or do you worry more about padding that 401(K) account?

3. Give Your Time

This is one of the 5 Effective Ways to Fight Social Injustice, but it’s true. Next time you’re hanging out at the bus stop with a stranger or get stopped by someone in the parking lot of your neighborhood grocery store, consider talking with them.

Conversations can be transformational for individuals that often don’t get any. Ask their name. Ask them what their dreams are. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

I think it’s important to remember that the injustice being committed isn’t that there are families wandering the streets with nowhere to go or that men like Leon and James are hungering for something to eat. The injustice is that Christians often sit idle while they have the capacity to respond to the plight of the needy.

Make a commitment to share your blessings this week. Who knows, maybe you’ll see someone give it away, too.



About Matthew Snyder

Matt is a thirty-something writer and young adult minister. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Merridith, and their dog, Finn.


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