In July 2008, my husband, Dave, and I taught a Sunday School class lesson, titled, Jesus Christ – Master Communicator. The lesson was about the incredible skills Jesus displayed when communicating with “outcasts” of his day, as well as the Pharisees and his disciples. When Jesus talked with the outcasts – people with leprosy, people with mental disorders, the sick and the poor — his goal was to accept them and love them, heal them and to give them “sight.” He did something that was profound to the recipient: he looked at them, listened to them, and touched them. He met them where they were, did not judge them and created an opportunity for them to change their lives.
At a point in the lesson when participants were asked to share with the group an experience of personally reaching out to someone in need or of observing such a situation, Jaclanel McFarland shared with the group what was happening on Sunday morning at Peggy’s Point Park in Houston. She and Keith had been stopping at the park on their way to church and talking with the people that appeared to be sleeping at the park. Over time, what had been coffee and a conversation with a few people had expanded to sharing breakfast with 20-30 people followed by a short worship service including singing, scripture and prayer.
A few weeks later, I stopped Jaclanel and Keith and asked about what they were doing at Peggy’s Point and whether they needed any more volunteers. They invited Dave and me to join them on Sunday morning at the park. We began assisting them the next Sunday, helping with serving breakfast, talking with the people and participating in the worship. The numbers grew and by the spring, we were meeting, serving and worshiping with over 120 people on Sunday mornings.
In February 2009, we began distributing cards and pencils for people to write down a prayer request while they were waiting in line for breakfast. Those who chose to do this turned their cards in when they got to the head of the line. Their prayer requests spoke of their daily challenges with joblessness, drug addiction, problems with relationships, fears for their unborn child and illness. Even in their dire circumstances, some focused on the needs of others – family members, friends, the poor, our country’s leaders. Some offered up praise for their first steps toward sobriety and for the food that morning.
What I found most Sunday mornings, is that my faith was strengthened by the utter dependence many of the homeless had for God to provide their next meal, shelter from the elements, protection from harm. Many knew and understood how their choices had contributed to their circumstances, others saw themselves as victims. I often wondered aloud to God, if I had had the same challenges in my life with respect to family instability, poor education, negative community surroundings, what my life would be like today. Without a doubt, most of our Peggy’s Point friends appreciated an opportunity on Sunday mornings to be a part of a community where people would look you in eye, shake your hand, welcome you and pray for your recovery.
While we are in the midst of reinventing the homeless ministry at South Main, I trust that its new iteration will give more South Mainers an opportunity to see God hand revealed to us through the simple offer of a listening ear, a hand outstretched in welcome and a willingness to offer prayer for a new beginning.