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Extending Love and Grace to our Homeless Neighbors

February 2, 2017   |   By Julianne Harris
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As the church of the city, we are tasked to unify, bridging people of every race, color and creed, but it’s not often that such unification presents itself as boldly as it did last Thursday night. As Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance prepared for their annual Point In Time Homeless Count – a measurement of our homeless population so that our city may better meet their needs with appropriate resources – 775 volunteers and 70 police officers of all races and ages filled the sanctuary to be trained. Although called for different reasons, all had united to give voice to our silenced neighbors. Several FirstChurch members joined the ranks, and even more participated by welcoming the volunteers into our church home – extending grace to those who would extend that same grace to our homeless neighbors later in the evening.

Many who volunteered for the count admitted to having trepidations. On most days, we ignore the plight of our homeless neighbors. We don’t know what to say or do and we struggle with our inability to solve the ever-growing problem of homelessness. We give a few dimes without looking the homeless in the eye, knowing all the while how futile our attempts may be. We turn instead to specialists and non-profit leaders, dismissing our ability to care because we don’t want to be vulnerable. But with each ‘referral’ we keep our greatest gift to heal hidden from each other.

Last Thursday night, volunteers set these trepidations aside, choosing instead to face the struggle of homelessness head on – choosing to connect. Groups of 4-5 volunteers canvased the city to search for and interview our homeless residents – to look them in the eye and show compassion. Flanked by two police officers, Mike Holloway and a few other volunteers interviewed over 50 homeless persons. Weaving among sleeping bags, tents and campfires, they never witnessed any violence or threatening behavior. The encampments were quiet, almost peaceful, and Mike was struck by the respectful manner of each homeless person he addressed that night. “They were so normal, so human, so engaging,” he said. “They were all ages and races, men and women, and when they sensed I was uncomfortable, they would assure me, ‘it’s ok. Go ahead.’ – Always wanting me to feel ok.”

The questions were more personal than Mike expected. What is your full name? Are you addicted to drugs? Have you tested positive for HIV? Are you mentally or physical impaired? But instead of shunning what could be perceived as invasive questions from a perfect stranger, everyone he interviewed seemed glad that someone cared to ask about their story.

Every person has a story, and participating in this count is only one of the ways FirstChurch members are understanding and advocating for our homeless neighbors. By allowing ourselves to open up to a stranger, homeless or otherwise, our love begins to flow. Our very calling as Christians is to connect, and as an urban church we are called to bridge the chasm between those of us who have homes and those
of us who don’t.

Our calling to advocacy has taken many forms over the last year. Our ecumenical Service of Light and Remembrance honors the lives lost on Dallas streets. Our staff employs people transitioning out of The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center. Austin Street Center receives many of our members on a monthly basis to serve dinner, teach arts and crafts, set up a reading center, and teach yoga and Qi Gong.

In all of these ways, we choose not to fear the unknown, but to open ourselves to a stranger so that our love may pour out. We are a body of Christ constantly striving to bring light and love to a population in need. For it is in this “honest recognition and confession of our human sameness that we can participate in the care of God who came, not to the powerful but to the powerless, not to be different but to be the same, not to take our pain away but to share it. Through this participation, we can open our hearts to each other and form a new community.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen.

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