News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The homeless: call them by name

This was their day. Christmas Eve. A day to put the homeless in a spot of light, in their darkened world. All hopes are dashed by their broken lives, cars, and dreams.

The hustle and bustle of the congregation had separated themselves. Some were cooking potatoes, stuffing, and veggies in the kitchen. The smell of turkeys cooking in crock pots all over the church created an tantalizing aroma of foods, just waiting to be devoured. In another room were potato mashers, turkey carvers, and pie cutters. Yet even in another room the decorations were being set up. The vans had been sent out to pick them up. The greeters awaited their arrival.

The people came one by one. Some came in groups. “They are homeless,” cried society.

Today, these “people” have become individuals. They have names. We can touch them and their lives, feed them, warm their frozen bones, and give them a few monetary items to give them a little more comfort. But this doesn’t make any difference if we don’t engage in listening to their stories. More importantly, giving them love, praying with and for them. Yes, they have many addictions, but we are just like them. We just hide them better. But their lives won’t change unless we give them love.

Desperate items are sought after. Not looking for electronics, or the newest and the greatest. They are in survival mode! Looking for, and sometimes fighting over: tarps, tents, sleeping bags, blankets, hand warmers, warm sweatshirts, hats, gloves, coats, warm socks, shoes, and batteries. Their toes are red and sore without socks. Perhaps they haven’t had a change of clothes for a month. The car has run out of gas, or broken down, and so they can’t get the warmth. These are basic human needs that we perhaps take for granted.

Seeing first-hand the dire poverty and desperate needs of these precious souls who have fallen through the cracks, compassion gripped my heart and my soul. I wanted to give them more, even a warm home, filled with hot water, clean clothes, a clean place to sit, and enjoy a home cooked meal.

There were so many. Some wanted to take more. Others took graciously only their immediate needs. Still others would not take a thing, saying, “Give to them whose needs are more than mine.”

We ran out of hand warmers, gloves, tents, sleeping bags, blankets, shoes, and still had two more hours to go. This prompted a rush to the local stores to empty Walmart, Bi-Mart and Fred Meyer of those supplies.

A gentleman brought an accordion.

“Why don’t you play some Christmas songs for us!” someone said. “My hands are so cold; they need to warm up first.”

Another gentleman had no teeth. “I can eat pumpkin pie,” he laughed with a smile.

There was a lady who only wanted an outfit, to go to an interview.

Just then, Christmas carols flowed through the cafeteria.

So, they were fed a warm turkey/ham dinner, and we sent them back out into the freezing cold world, as darkness came upon them. We returned home to our visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads snuggled in our warm house, warm beds, awaiting the tree filled with Christmas presents.

Christmas Day. Their presents in the morning were: new tarps, blankets, sleeping bags, tents, and warm clothes; without the shoes that didn’t fit or we didn’t have their size, without the warm leggings we hadn’t supplied, and without the backpacks that we hadn’t thought of.

It took a congregation to help these souls in need. So many people running to get the help they needed, filling their tanks with gas, hopefully giving the right information for them to get a bed for the night. Everyone, I mean everyone, was vitally important in this occasion. Even down to some who took phone calls for those in need of transportation, or made copies, or gave out our much-needed supplies.

Later, I connected with an elder in charge of the homeless. We went out in low-income housing door to door, leaving notes, inviting them to come out and have a barbecue dinner in the nearby park. Then another time, we were in the cafeteria, putting boxes together for them. It was powerful! Yes, we were changed. We would never be the same.

The people in this congregation really backed up their pastor.

We truly had the ears to hear their cries, the hands to touch their lives, and feet to fill their needs, with many hearts going out to them. They have names. We call them by their names.


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