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For the Least of These

His name was Mowser, or at least that is what I called him. Sure, it was a play on the word “mouser” and he was a good one, but I also chose it because he was so vocal. He would show up at the back door, crying “mow, mow, mow” persistently until we came out to feed and pet him.  He knew he could come to our house for breakfast and dinner, and anytime in between if he were hungry. He didn’t really belong to us, or anyone else in the neighborhood as far as I can tell. I think he slept in a neighbor’s barn when the weather was rainy. In the winter, my husband set up a heated box for him on the porch and he slept there most nights.

Before anyone berates me for keeping him outside, please know that we offered for him to come in, and he politely declined. In fact, he totally freaked out when I did bring him inside and he couldn’t wait to get back out. He was always welcome if he ever changed his mind. In the meantime, we made sure he had food, water and shelter. We removed ticks and applied flea medicine, brushed his fur, and give him lots of petting. Even so, I think we didn’t so much adopt him as he adopted us.

When Mowser first showed up around our property, I tried calling to him. “Here, kitty kitty. Come here and let me love you.”(Which is less creepy than it sounds when I use my sweet kitty-calling voice.) He would stop and stare at me. When I took a step in his direction, he bolted. This did not deter me. Every time I saw him, I would say the same thing. One evening, when I got out of the car, he was closer than I had ever seen him. I called to him again, expecting the same reaction, but was surprised to see him coming my way. Softly, I stroked his head and he rubbed against my legs. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He looked scrawny, so I gave him a little bit of food, even though I was worried about what my husband would say about me feeding a stray. That worry didn’t last long when I caught him feeding the cat a few days later. I feigned righteous indignation, threw my hands up in the air and said, “Well, thanks a lot; I guess we have to keep him now!”

Feeding a stray animal, or helping one that is hurt or sick, isn’t too hard for most people. Like me, you probably have a friend or two who is notorious for taking in strays, or aiding lost or injured animals. You may be that person. I mean, really, who can resist sad puppy eyes, or baby kitty mews that say “I’m hungry -- feed me!” Temporarily taking in a stray or injured animal isn’t too inconvenient either. You can put the animal in a cage or a box or something similar to keep it from messing in your house, to keep it separate from your pets, or to keep it from biting someone in your household, until you can take it to the vet or shelter. Often, though, you become too attached to let them go, and they become a part of your family, which was the case with our cat, Oscar. My husband found him on a job site. His mother had been run over by something. The poor kitty was all alone and crying, so of course he brought him home. At first I said no, find him a home. He did try, but had no takers. I knew once I named him Oscar that he wasn’t going anywhere. Twelve plus years later, he is still my “baby kitty”.

To this day, I have never heard a similar story about a homeless person.

As a society, we have the animal rescue thing down to a science, with most everyone on board. Not so much with people. I get it. People are a little harder to rescue. You can’t put a person in a box or a cage in your garage (can you say “kidnapping”?) and it’s probably not prudent to offer a person on the street your spare bedroom. Even if you did, it would be a temporary arrangement. It’s unlikely the person would be invited to become a permanent member of your household. Fortunately, there are several homeless shelters for men, women, and families here in Charleston. They seem to stay full, and people are still living on the streets. I’ve heard people “in the know” say that many choose to stay on the street, even if offered a warm bed for the night. They remind me of Mowser in that respect… they don’t want to come in, but they know where they can get a hot meal if they need one. Many of the homeless also struggle with mental illness or addiction, which makes assisting them all the more difficult.

Let’s be honest. Most of us turn a blind eye to the homeless situation. We pass them by, thinking to ourselves that if they really wanted help, they would get it. I think the panhandlers we see at the shopping centers have made us a little jaded toward the homeless. Their “will work for food” signs come across as insincere. I’ve had friends tell me that they have gone through a drive-thru and offered them food, only for them to snub their nose at it. What they really want is cash, whether it is to pad their pocket or to buy drugs or alcohol. You also see the same people year after year, sometimes in the same place. I guess they don’t think anyone will remember what they look like?

Matthew 25:35-36, 40

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

For every fake panhandler, there are dozens of people who are truly homeless and need a helping hand. Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments tell us we should help the poor and needy. We should not withhold assistance if it is within our means to help. In 1 John 3, it asks how can the love of God be in us if we see people in need and have no compassion for them? Despite what the “experts” say, no one really chooses to live on the street. Even if the person professes that to be the case, it is the illness talking, whether that illness is a mental one or is based in addiction. No one says that they want to be homeless when they grow up.

Within the last year, Spirit Life Fellowship started its street ministry on the east end of Charleston. One of the city’s homeless shelters for women and families is in this area of town. It is also very close to our state capitol grounds. Many of the homeless of Charleston are in this area. It started with a handful of people going down to Washington Street after church and handing out water bottles and tracts. They talked to people and prayed with them. Then more recently, one of our members stepped up to lead the efforts on the street. Kathy Hudson has already made her name (and number) known among the homeless community. She and her team have prayed and ministered to people, and we are beginning to see the results. For example, a homeless man, who was in a wheelchair and very ill, has been placed in a nursing home and reunited with his family. Another family has been reunited, thanks to the team’s efforts to get them furnishings for a new home so that the children could be returned to their care. It’s one thing to talk to people about Jesus and hand out tracks. It’s another to take the time to really listen to their hurts and their needs and take action. Yes, they need Jesus. They also need a roof over their head and food on the table and hope for a better future. They need delivered from illness, addiction, low self-worth, and poverty. Jesus can do all those things for them, and more, but we all have a role to play in the process.

Each person living on the streets is a precious soul created and loved by God. Their worth is the same as every other person on earth. They each have stories as to what path brought them to the streets. We can be a part of the rest of their story of how they found their way back through the love of Christ. What amazing testimonies they will have! So, I don’t think the question is will you volunteer for the SLF street ministry, but how will you volunteer for the SLF street ministry? As a church, we have to be united in this effort. That doesn’t mean that every person will actually be on the street ministering directly to the people. Not everyone is cut out for that work, but if you are willing to try, others can teach you. As Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out to minister, we must be as shrewd as snakes but as gentle as doves. Still, there is plenty of work that needs to be completed behind the scenes. Some will be collecting, organizing and packaging supplies. Some will be donating money and/or supplies. You might have to come in before a street ministry event and make 200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or put together goody bags of hygiene products. Some will be praying during the street ministry outreach. Some will be teaching and discipling those new converts who choose to come to our church. More roles may emerge as the ministry grows and other needs are identified. Each of us can play a role in this ministry.  Don’t ever think that just because you are not physically on the streets that you are not a part of the ministry. The truth is that some of the most effective workers on the streets will be the people who came from there.

We want to touch as many lives as possible. Not every story will have a happy ending. Not everyone will accept Jesus. Not everyone will accept our help.  We cannot let that discourage us from trying. We have to focus on the ones who will accept help and the message of the gospel, and continue praying for all. We each have to step up and be a part of the process. Working together, we are the hands and feet of Christ.

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