Portland, Oregon, has one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S., many of whom are not on drugs, do have jobs and are not suffering from a mental illness. Many of the stereotypes that prevent us from seeing a fellow human on the corner are simply rooted in misinformed fear.
The Kansas-Nebraska Conference sponsored a mission trip to Portland this year to assist BridgeTown Ministries in their mission of helping the local community. For the last 14 years, BridgeTown has cared for the city’s homeless and disadvantaged, exemplifying their motto “Loving people, because people matter.” Because of their history, it was a privilege to learn from BridgeTown’s established program and develop a stronger sense of compassion and empathy.
We began by walking around the city with the simple goal of having conversations and learning names. We met amazing people with stories that broke our hearts. We prayed for city leaders, those who protect the city and those who provide for people’s needs.
One homeless gentleman had two job interviews the next day and asked us if we would pray for him. He told us it is very hard to get a job without an address. However, in order to have enough money to afford an apartment, he needed a job. So we prayed for him. He cried and thanked us for our kindness. Then we went on to the next block, looking for others.
For a day we participated in simulated homelessness, viewing the city through the eyes of the homeless population by walking the streets with no other purpose than to listen and learn from them. We ate with them at shelters, we sat on the stoops of businesses until we were told to leave and we talked to people and listened to their stories. Most people we encountered were more than willing to share cautionary tales of how to make better choices in life.
Pouring out Jesus’ love
Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth a woman came to anoint His feet with costly perfume and dry them with her hair. Some of Jesus’ followers fussed over the wasted resources, which lead to Jesus’ famous rebuke found in Matthew 26. This rebuke carries a loaded message for us today. I especially appreciate the way the Message Bible phrases it.
“When Jesus realized what was going on, he intervened. Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives, but not me. When she poured this perfume on my body, what she really did was anoint me for burial. You can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she has done is going to be remembered and admired” Matt. 26:10-13.
This story teaches an important lesson about the poor. It strikes me that Jesus said there will always be poor with us. This should not be seen as an excuse to ignore the poor and disadvantaged. If anything, it is a command to try again tomorrow. Because there will always be poor and disadvantaged individuals in my life, I will always have work to do in their lives. Because Jesus said I will always have someone to pour His love onto, I have no excuse.
This trip was an amazing opportunity to pour out Jesus’ love on the needy. It was an opportunity for us to step out of our comfort zones and be challenged to see people differently. It is one thing to know we are all created in God’s image, but to be confronted with that image is humbling. There is tremendous need for love, compassion and human response to our fellow creations. This is good news, because there will always be someone with whom to share God’s love
—Timothy Floyd is the Youth Director for the Kansas-Nebraska Conference.