by Shauna Marie Hyde
(For the complete post, click here)
Recently I lost someone who I never dreamed would be someone I would ever meet much less deeply love. Our story is told in the book, “The Vicar of Tent Town.” One day a few years ago I heard about some people living off the Elk River in West Virginia, so I went to see what was going on. It was a slippery muddy hike but I found them. They had cleared off an area and had tents set up with tarps overhead, a fire pit, and had made a fairly decent place to live.
As I entered the camp, a man came up to meet me. We introduced ourselves and sat down to have a chat. Noah told me later that I was the first church person who had sat down and spent time in Tent Town. That simple act was what made him take me seriously and know that he could trust me.
I began to visit often trying to bring needed items and to take them somewhere if they needed a ride. The church people began to accompany me or send donations if they were unable to go. Bit by bit they just became a part of the congregation. Noah became a dear friend. I learned a lot about homelessness from spending time with them and hearing their stories. I learned that many of them have jobs, many are educated, and many are cynical about church people. A lot of churches won’t help unless thy sit through a church service, have a long list of unobtainable rules and are so judgmental in their attitudes that they never treat homeless people as people. They get tired of the assumptions that they are lazy moochers, all of them are druggies, or are mentally ill, or are running from the law. There is plenty of that; however, there are two major populations of homeless people that might surprise you: veterans and kids running away from abuse and LGBTQ youth who have been kicked out of their homes.
Did you know there are more empty buildings than there are homeless people in the USA? “There are more than five times as many vacant homes in the U.S. as there are homeless people, according to Amnesty International USA.” http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/more_vacant_homes_than_homeless_in_us_20111231 I could not even begin to guess at how many church buildings there are that often have empty rooms the majority of the time.
How is someone living on the streets, working less than 30 hours per week because that was the only job they could find, supposed to save up enough money for rent, deposit, utilities and its deposit, etc.? What little money they make goes to food, required clothing for the job, and bus fare and basic survival.
There was a time when anyone could find sanctuary in a church. Now people are more worried about their buildings, getting sued, vandalized, stolen from, and that something terrible will happen when they offer sanctuary. Guess what? Something terrible is happening without “those people” being around. We see life-threatening violence in schools, malls, and churches…and it isn’t “those people” doing it. That is a heartbreaking issue for another blog.
When it comes to the homeless and working poor we are just too busy, too selfish, too focused on what we want, getting our way, etc., to offer people sanctuary. It is time to be proactive with world transformation! It is time to be the church and offer sanctuary to those who are hurting, lost, scared, unheard, and slipping through life as living ghosts.
The irony is Christians worship someone who was homeless when he walked this earth. Possessions did not slow him down, people did. Guess what else? He was crazy – crazy in love with humanity! He was crazy enough to sacrifice a life of comfort and then life itself in order to offer the world sanctuary. I propose revival! I propose we sell all the trappings and fancy accoutrements we believe we simply must have in order to worship a God who decided to become human and homeless in order to reach us. I propose we offer sanctuary to any and to all in the name of God who went to such great lengths to offer sanctuary to all of humanity.
Who knows? Perhaps my friend Noah might still be alive and well on this earth.