It wasn’t that long ago in my life that I looked at the homeless in my city with the same kind of cynicism that most of us seem to have. Sure I gave the odd handful of change away, but for the most part I would keep my window down as I drove by, or silently continue walking telling myself that they'll just buy self-destructive things with that money. But then I was challenged one day by a single thought. When did Jesus ever refuse someone in need? Did he ever deny people because he didn’t agree with some things they might do?
I became convinced that Jesus taught us to give for the loving act of giving, not for the expectation of seeing results that we want to see.
While packing my groceries into my car one day I was approached by two women. They claimed they needed money for some medication, and followed with a long list of unfortunate circumstances which led them to asking for money in a parking lot. If I’m being honest, I must say that I was struck with that familiar cynicism. ‘Medication’ I thought to myself, ‘that’s not even being very subtle is it?’ But being the good Christian man I thought myself to be, I politely and respectfully told them that I never carry any actual money with me. (who does these days)?
But they were persistent. One asked me if I would be willing to go back into the grocery store and buy a gift card for them. That clicked something in my head. I immediately went back into the store and loaded ten dollars onto a gift card and went straight outside to find these two women. But I never did find them.
Even though I was never able to give that money to the women I intended to, this day started a new tradition for myself to always try to have a gift card handy in my wallet for the man standing on the medium, or the guy on the street, or the one sitting in front of the Zellers. It was like a little gift I bought every once and a while for someone I've haven't met yet.
I started to believe in the intentionality of giving, that it wasn’t enough to just give. I started to plan to give to the homeless when I met them.
I can’t describe all the great moments I’ve had, pulling my car up to the medium (with a green light in front of me) handing one of these cards to the man holding a sign. The looks on their faces when I tell them what it is are many that I have yet to forget. And I hope that the message is clear. “I got this for you because I care about you. I know it’s not much but I hope it will help.”
Since I began intentionally giving to the homeless in my community I’ve been filled with a desire not only to give, but to know them. If I have a chance I want to know their name, I want to talk with them and make sure that they’re feeling safe for the night, and know of the places they can go.
What if it’s not enough to just give to the poor, what if showing them God’s love means getting to know the poor?
Shane Claiborne said, “When the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”
I’m beginning to know what he meant. And I can’t help but wonder what could happen in the church became intentional in both giving to, and loving the homeless in our city. I'm excited to see what a church dedicated to intentional, practical love can do.