Since 2011, I have had the privilege of leading a team of volunteers who venture down to the Union Gospel Mission Dallas to conduct 4th Friday Chapel and minister to the homeless men temporarily residing at the Downtown Dallas shelter. Some of the names and faces have changed over time. Others have remained steadfastly the same. This is true on both sides of the pulpit. Of the 300 or so men who come to the shelter located at 3211 Irving Boulevard, some have been there every single time since my wife Terri and I started going there to minister to them. Others have graduated, gotten back on their feet. Some have strayed, leaving the structure of the shelter to return to life on the streets.
I read an article the other day that proclaimed that the universal consensus is that homelessness can be alleviated if we will simply provide more affordable housing. I certainly don’t doubt that this is part of the solution. But I don’t believe that is all of the answer. Almost all of the men had a place to call home once. That tells me there’s more to the story then we might like to think or than we’re ready to hear.
Indeed, experience has taught me that homelessness is a multifaceted problem. The men need jobs and better skills, both work-related and lifestyle focused. While some might recoil at this thought, it is true that there is a spiritual component that must be addressed in addition to dealing with the physical challenges that these men face. You see, many of these men have had their spirit broken. Others, need guidance in how to live among others. Some genuinely don’t know right from wrong; at least not anymore.
There exists a clear physical deficit that we must address. We should feed their bellies. We must train their hands and educate their minds. Indeed, we have to develop more affordable housing. But, in the process of meeting their real physical needs, we cannot starve their souls. We must not fail to speak to their hearts.
These men need to have their hope restored and their faith rebuilt. They need to know that despite the current circumstances that they find themselves in, God has not forgotten nor forsaken them. While they may feel unlovable, they need to hear that God does indeed love them. And that’s the message we try to share with them.
Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:37-40 (The Message)
Going down to the mission every 4th Friday, our ministry team is able to share the love of God with these men in a real and tangible way. We have a time of worship, singing songs of faith and praise. We share a message of hope from the Word of God, and we stand with them in prayer, crying out to the Lord alongside them, lifting up their dreams and laying down their burdens. That we would do this may come as a shock to people. You might read this and wonder how what we’re doing is helping these men recover from their fall from grace. And that’s ok…we have seen the evidence confirming that it is.
We show these men, considered to be the last and least, often lonely, many lost, that they are worth loving and that they have value. Yes, their lives matter. Yes, their lives have value. Yes, life can be better than the present situation they find themselves in. Yes, with the help of others, they can rise above their current circumstances.
I am proud of the men and women who serve on our team, including my wife Terri, who I have witnessed grow in her ability to meet these men where they are and show them the love of Christ in her glowing smile and kind words.
I am thankful for our ministry partners, Matt and Laurie, Ed C., Michael G., and Bill and Ann. Their faithfulness and devotion to this ministry is remarkable and noteworthy.
It’s been said that there is no safer place to be than in the center of God’s will. I’m glad He has us here, in the palms of His hands, using us for His praise and glory. That He would use a broken vessel like me seems truly unbelievable, if I’m honest about it. Yet, He does. Thankfully.