Did you like how I started my post from yesterday by saying it wouldn't be very long? Did you read my post from yesterday? It ended up being pretty long. So either it made very little sense because I was so tired, or I wasn't that tired.
As I've gone back and reread some of my posts, I realized how much I've left out (not including the pictures). I want to try to sum up the week to give you a better idea, in case it didn't come across.
First, it was awesome. In every way. We started out with a group who didn't know each other. And either I'm getting older and wiser or older and something else, because I was never worried about them not knowing each other (it was actually a group of "couples" and John) and by the end of the trip we couldn't get them to stop talking. That is awesome.
Second, CSM continues to be awesome. When I first started these trips, I wasn't fond of the locations. My body doesn't take traveling all too well to begin with, and the lack of luxury accommodations has never helped. For the first time I realized (again, I must be getting older and wiser - I hope) that one of the groups we are there to help are the homeless. People who go without. Why should our housing sites be anything above a step above poverty? I've always felt sorry for the churches, or where ever the housing site has been, that they don't have enough funds to do something as simple as paint a hallway. Sami continues to add the suggestion of allowing a group to come a day early or stay a day late - for free, in order to do some of the small tasks around the housing site. That is a great suggestion and I hope that CSM considers it. While we don't need five, or four or even three star accommodations, something as simple as removing peeling paint and cobwebs might help. It would at least show some respect for the place where we are sleeping. In the meantime, it is a roof over our heads.
Third, the walls continue to be broken down about how I perceive a homeless person. It could easily be you or me. How close is any one of us to being homeless? All it takes is a flood, a fire, an accident, etc for that to happen. While mental illness is one of the main causes of homelessness, who's to say one of us could easily find ourselves without a home?
The hospitality of even the homeless in Nashville gives me hope. This trip taught me more about communicating with someone than any of the others. Do you know how easy it is to ask someone who might be approaching you for money what their name is? Do you know how much that means to them? Nashville is a small enough city that we saw the same people at several different locations. I know God is working through them and our young adults each time we saw them and called them by name. Just because they are homeless doesn't mean they don't have a name. By all means, be safe, but try introducing yourself. Most people just want someone to listen.
Our Urban Exposure had lots of profound moments for me. One of them was while we were talking to Billy and he had pointed to his new friend on the bench. She seemed to have all of her possessions with her and Billy told us he would share the lunch we gave him with her. As Jen, Josh and Bernard talked to Billy, I watched as a well-dressed woman walked by the woman on the bench. The well-dressed woman appeared to be in a hurry, but when she saw the woman on the bench, the well-dressed woman stopped and dug through her purse until she found a sandwich. She spoke to the woman on the bench and the woman on the bench accepted the sandwich. "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat..." -Matthew 25:35 NIV. We also witnessed several business men and women walking through the park waving to others in the park who did not seem to be business men and women.
We also witnessed the proverb, "teach a man to fish" while we were walking throughout the city. We had an extra lunch to share with someone who was hungry. We had trouble finding someone who was hungry because one of the church's had provided a lunch that day. We ended up giving our extra lunch to Billy (we had asked three or four people before finding him) because he said he'd share with his friend, and because we wanted to. Later, we passed a man down on Broadway holding a sign, asking for food. Jen really wanted to share something with the man holding the sign, and I told her she could, but think about how difficult it had been for us to find someone who was hungry. This man was being lazy, he could have easily found a free meal. If gave him food, we were only enabling him. It was tough love. It always has been for me.
We talked to a police officer who kindly answered our questions and even elaborated on Billy's citation for sleeping under a bridge (it is illegal for a homeless person to lie down, it means they are establishing a place to stay - or something like that, he used police jargon).
We had a man walk out of his way to show us how to get to the library (erm, once we followed his directions, we were standing at the corner with one of the men we had seen at a couple of the sites and we asked him where the library was. He pointed at the building right in front of us and said, "here it is!" we were very amused, we almost walked right past it).
The very first man we spoke to had many opinions and he was well spoken as he shared them with us. One of the things he said is something I take umbrage with, he told us that everyone (Denver, Miami, Detroit) ships their homeless to Nashville, because in no other city can you get three meals a day. Erm, except in Grand Rapids. If you are hungry, you can find at least three places that will serve you three meals a day. And in New York City, there are places, and in Chicago and in all of the cities where CSM is located; I am sure that there are places you can go to get food, at least once a day. You will not go hungry anywhere, you just have to ask.
Maybe that's it. Maybe it's pride. Maybe it's those suffering from mental illness. We're not going to solve all the problems, but we need to continue to serve others. I hope as you've read about this trip and this experience that it has created an urge in you to do something. That something can be as small as buying one extra can of soup at the grocery store and giving it to the local food bank. It can be donating your gently used clothing to the Goodwill or Salvation Army (stop. Look at that. Shruti realized for the first time that the word Salvation is part of the name).
Volunteer. Go big; join a prison ministry, join a mission team. Write a check. If you're not hands-on, you don't have to do hands-on work. It's best when you get out of your comfort zone and help others, but take baby steps if you've never done something like this before. We kept talking about our Spiritual Gifts. Find out what yours are. I'm going to try to teach a class this spring. I would love to teach it again in the fall.
Make a difference. Be awesome.