By Don Kuck
When I heard that St. Luke needed someone to organize the Rotating Shelter week for the homeless, it seemed like a good fit for me. It was clearly a good cause — Scripture is loaded with exhortations to serve the poor – and I’ve had experience organizing events.
“Whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31
I knew my biggest challenge would be to socialize and witness to these men. What would these guys be like? Would they even want to talk to anyone? Maybe they’d just want to be left alone. Would I remember their names and faces? But I also knew that it was a good challenge for me, and something I hoped the Lord would bless.
It is intimidating to greet 25 strangers. But it became clear that some of the men would be easy to get to know! They were friendly and glad to be there. Others were more reserved, but still easy to talk to. Some were quiet, but had questions that brought us into contact. After several days, I knew about 20 of our guests.
I knew my biggest challenge would be to socialize and witness to these men.
One of the first stereotypes that fell was that these guys would be embarrassed to talk about themselves. In fact many of them were quick to give at least part of their story. One guy had a business that went under; the next guy used to be an aerospace engineer; a third man was in construction; while another was an army veteran. It didn’t take long to realize that these guys are just like me!
Over the years I’ve appreciated the subtle lessons that I’ve learned from these guys. A lot of guy talk can be about our possessions. With these guys, though, it’s refreshing to move past that into more personal topics.
It didn’t take long to realize that these guys are just like me!
Many of them are quick to share their story because they want to make it clear that they are not just street bums. They are educated, they had a good job, they owned their own business, etc. Many of them have a perspective on life that is worth hearing.
Some of the men are brothers in the Lord; others don’t appear to know Him. Some years we’ve had many guys come to worship on Sunday morning; other years, not so much. Last year a large group wanted to stay all morning, but they didn’t want to go to church. I found out later that the library is closed until noon on Sundays, and they were glad to have a warm, quiet place to read.
I have continued to organize our rotating shelter week for over 10 years. While it is a lot of work to recruit volunteers to drive the men to our church, cook and feed them dinner, clean up, and stay overnight while the men slept and in the morning drive the men back downtown, it’s also a very rewarding experience. With each year and with each individual, it’s a challenge to learn how to be a good witness.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt. 25:40
But one of the real joys I have is seeing the volunteers connect with our guests — especially for the first time. I hear members say: “Thank you for asking me to drive — we had a really good conversation in the car,” or “The men were so grateful for the dinner,” or “Have you talked to Joe? He has quite a story to tell.”
The thing I and many of our volunteers appreciate is being able to rub elbows and hang with these men who are in a difficult circumstance. They are almost always grateful for the things we do for them.
With each year and with each individual, it’s a challenge to learn how to be a good witness.
Like us, they are on their own journey in life, and they have learned some of life’s lessons along the way. Connecting with them helps put our own lives in perspective. We may think of ourselves as reaching down to give them a hand up, but I like to think of us walking alongside them as we all journey down the road of life, helping each other.
We have found that an effective way to serve these men is through small groups; even young children can be involved in helping to serve the meal.
We could still use another 2-3 small groups this year — it would involve a single day of service, including meal preparation, driving, and several people to stay overnight. If you are in a small group that has interest or questions, let me, Don, know(734-434-9496 (H) or 734-649-2884 (cell). Our week goes from Monday, January 20, through Sunday night, January 27.
We may think of ourselves as reaching down to give them a hand up, but I like to think of us walking alongside them as we all journey down the road of life, helping each other.
My prayer and hope is twofold — first, that Jesus will draw these men closer to Himself though us; and second, that we who serve these men will be encouraged to serve the poor for the rest of the year. But what most of us have found is that we are the ones who walk away feeling blessed.