Another Day in Paradise

By Les McMahan / Jim Boscaljon, Co-directors Alliance Men’s Ministries

She calls out to the man on the street
'Sir, can you help me?
It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep,
Is there somewhere you can tell me?'

He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

Oh think twice, it's another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, 'cause it's just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she's been crying
She's got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can't walk but she's trying

Oh think twice, 'cause it's another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it's just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

Oh lord, is there nothing more anybody can do
Oh lord, there must be something you can say

You can tell from the lines on her face
You can see that she's been there
Probably been moved on from every place
'Cos she didn't fit in there

Oh think twice, cause it's another day for
You and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it's just another day for you
You and me in paradise

Just think about it…

Perhaps these are familiar lyrics, if you are a Phil Collins’ fan.  The song definitely strikes a chord with the thought (or lack of thought) about homelessness.  The topic of homelessness is definitely an en vogue issue today, but do we truly try to seek first to understand and then be understood when it comes to homelessness?  Is it our intention to just “provide ‘stuff’ to those in need” or do we “provide stuff to meet those in ‘need’”?  This may be a subtle difference in wording, “provide ‘stuff’ to those in need” or “provide stuff to meet those in ‘need,’” but a major difference in motivation.

Continuing the series ‘seek first to understand then be understood,’ Chuck and Patty, who are involved with a team in a homeless ministry, discussed their involvement with me. I learned some things that I needed to understand before trying to be understood. 

The first thing I learned was that the homeless are broken but not out.  What do I mean by that?  Everyone has a story.  Granted your story and my story may not be one of homelessness, but we all have a need in life.  Homelessness might be a symptom of a greater need, but God, no matter the reason, is in the business of redemption stories.  Redemption is always possible with God.  According to Chuck and Patty, oftentimes groups will patronize the homeless to be seen, but do not take the time to know the homeless.  One of the things they have found beneficial in meeting with the homeless is to be willing to share their story and be willing to listen to the stories of the homeless they meet.  At points in all of our lives, we need someone to listen. 

The second thing that I needed to understand was the homeless are skeptical but not unreachable.  Chuck and Patty mentioned that trust is earned not granted.  This means that providing a meal or clothes doesn’t always guarantee that your interest is well received.  Chuck, Patty, and the team have been able to gain trust with a few of the homeless.  While the warm meal, clothing, and shoes are an open door, the conversation, compassion, and authenticity are sensed so that trust is built.  This trust allows those that seem outside of God’s reach to be within His visible reach. 

The third thing that Chuck and Patty pointed out to me was that folks are fixable but that is not our job.  Our job is to LOVE and REACH.  It is not to change.  Changing folks is God’s business.  Sensing from the team that goes on these ‘short term’ mission opportunities, it does more for them than for those they intend to help.  Whether it is a trip to the city or a trip to another country, God uses these opportunities to do more ‘in’ us than ‘through’ us.  And as He is doing something ‘in’ us, the by-product is that lives may be changed. 

Motivation is a big factor in any ministry endeavor.  This is no different when helping with the homeless or standing in front of a congregation.  YES!!!  Go serve.  YES!!!  Be involved.  However, if it is self-serving, it will not bring lasting fruit.  If it is to honor God, He will bring the fruit and change us in the process.  When I sought first to understand, it brought new meaning to Matthew 25:40, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.  Just think about it.