I guess I wasn’t expecting it to affect me the way it did. I had served as a volunteer before. I have worked one on one with the homeless. On top of that, I grew up in one of the poorest parts of Ohio, and had friends who lived without electricity and indoor plumbing. But this was different. I don’t know why, but it was.
It was 5:45 in the morning, and I was standing in front of a huge gothic church in the downtown. It was a hulking reminder of what this neighborhood once was--a haven of immigrant culture, and a lively and thriving community. But now the shadow from its tower cast a pall over the crime and the poverty and the sorrow that we suburbanites would like to forget. I stood at the door thinking of what the morning would hold…busing tables, serving breakfast, and providing some hospitality to the numerous homeless and elderly locals who came in for a hot meal.
There were men and women, young and old. Cold and hungry, many just wanted a place to get warm, a cup of coffee, and someone to talk with.
I had the easy job that morning. I worked the front door, shaking hands and telling folks to come in and get warm. It was strange for me to see the look of surprise on many of their faces when I went to shake their hand. I guess when most of the time people try to avoid you on the street, you’d be surprised when that same type of person suddenly wanted to shake your hand--maybe even suspicious.
By 9am., I was back in my car heading for home. Back to my safe little neighborhood, a world away from the pain and sadness of that place…A few days later in church we were singing, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.” At the second verse, I paused and all the experience of that morning flooded back…
In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of thy tears…
How often have I driven through that neighborhood, my car doors locked? How many times have I turned my head at the approach of a homeless man, wanting to ignore his plight? How long will I enjoy the comfort of my own, warm abode, and not rush to the aid of my brothers and sisters who walk the cold streets alone? How often will I lock my doors to Jesus? How often will I pretend He is not there with the suffering and hurting world? How long will I remain puzzled by the look of surprise on His face as I fail to recognize Him in the face of the poor? How long will it be…