I have been homeless before.
That was not a fun experience, but I had love to see me through it. My grandparents offered for my family to stay with them. So we had blow-up mattresses to sleep on, and a kitchen to raid in the morning. Granted, all of our belongings were stored in the garage, but at least they weren’t on the curb.
These guys? They don’t have those luxuries.
How do I know the guys in this picture are homeless people? Because I’ve worked with the family that helped them when they were on the street.
Messiah’s Branch is a family-owned homeless ministry. Since the year 2000, Dan and Linda Catlin have been traveling an hour, at least twice a week, to help the homeless in the city of Wichita, Kansas.
When I was a teenager (before we were homeless ourselves), my family had the privilege of working with this family.
We’d arrive at the mission building (a renovated bar), around 12:30 on Tuesdays and Fridays. The homeless people of the city, usually about 50 to 70 of them, would already be trickling into the area. There are a lot more homeless people than that in Wichita. Those were just the people from the surrounding area that could walk there, and had no other ministry that they could go for food. Most churches (besides Messiah’s Branch) require identification before they feed people off the street, and oftentimes homeless people have lost their identification long ago, whether because of drugs, mugging, or police raids (many of the police in Wichita are very hostile towards homeless people).
We’d squeeze past the crowd and into the front door. Inside was the kitchen, bathrooms, a phone booth, and a closet filled to the brim with free, donated clothing. Beyond that, there was the main room filled with tables and chairs.
For lunch, we would serve fried egg sandwiches. In the afternoon we would give out family food boxes. In the evening we would have a cooked-on-the-spot supper. Then many would go back home, under the bridge or wherever, with a Styrofoam container filled with the leftovers of dinner.
Sister Linda can hold a knife and cut a potato at the same time, in the same hand! The whole time seasoning her stew and chatting and laughing with a young homeless couple that are hanging around the kitchen door, hungry for more than just food.
And Pastor Dan? What does he do? He takes some people to doctor’s appointments, some to the hospital. Sometimes he buys shoes, or makes sure they find a coat that will fit just right. The way I remember him most is being the resident jar-opener.
In the wintertime, when it reaches a certain temperature, Pastor Dan and Sister Linda open up the building full time. There are so many people that come, they lay them all side-by-side in rows on the floor. For a week sometimes, it’s like this. Their compassion drives them. I vividly remember Sister Linda crying over two that froze to death one year, because there was a sharp temperature drop overnight, and they didn’t make it in time to open the building.
It’s hard work, running a mission with dedication like that. Sometimes you see a rich kid come in, talking on his cell phone while asking for a handout. Sometimes drunks stumble in, or revenge-bent gang members, or tweaking meth dealers. I’ve seen incidents where Sister Linda or Pastor Dan will grab those people up by the scruff of the neck and drag them out of the building. Then they’ll set them down on their feet outside and proceed to loudly inform the person that they’re not allowed to act like that around here, that God loves them, but God doesn’t like what they’re doing.
Everything the pair does is loud, you see. They’re pretty rough around the edges themselves. But they have hearts of gold.
What does all this have to do with spiritual gifts?
Well, I personally see the gift of helps greatly demonstrated in this ministry. (1st Corinthians 12:28)
You see, spirituality and practicality don’t have to be opposed to each other.
If you have a calling that God has placed on your life, don’t worry about doing it perfectly. Just do it in love! It may not look pristine, but it’ll be beautiful in its very own way.