I went to seminary just outside of Philadelphia. It was great to be so close to a large city because there was always something for my family to do. We could walk to the train station, and within 15 minutes we could be most any place in the city.
On one of my frequent trips into the city I was running late and I arrived at the train stop with only about five minutes to catch the next train. I knew that if I was late it would be at least 30 minutes until the next train came.
I ran to the ticket counter and I stood in line. It went pretty quickly but as I got to the top of the steps to go to the platform I saw my train pull away.
To make the best of a bad situation I looked around for something to do, it was around lunch time so I made my way to a small pizza shop. As I walked there my eyes caught the glance of an older man who appeared to be homeless. I quickly looked away because I did not want him to think I was staring at him.
But while in line at the pizza shop he approached me and said “Excuse me sir.” I turned and saw a man who was most likely younger than he looked, who smelled like he has not showered in weeks and his cheeks were sunk in because he most likely has not eaten for a while.
“Yes?” I replied. “I was wondering if you could buy me a slice of pizza, I have not eaten for days.”
I looked at the cash I had in my hand and I looked in my wallet and at the menu. I realized I could buy a medium pizza so he could have plenty. I turned to him and I said “Only if I can join you for lunch.”
Surprised and excited he said “Yes.” I bought the pizza and we grabbed a table. He ate like he has not eaten in days and he did not talk much but he did answer a few of my questions. I found out his name was Derek and he lived his whole life in Philadelphia and he has been homeless for almost 10 years.
I looked at my watch and saw that my train was coming soon so I excused myself and thanked him for a lovely time together. He stopped me and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” I sat back down and I said, “Will you pray with me?”
He said “Yes” and then I grabbed his hands and we prayed. When I was done praying I looked up at him and he had tears in his eyes and he said “Thank you.
That was the first time anyone has prayed for me.” With tears in my eyes I said, “Thank you.”
Since that moment I’ve had an interest and passion for not only helping the homeless but also educating myself and others about homelessness in America. On any given night there are almost 600,000 people who are homeless in America and almost half of those people are families with children. In Massachusetts alone there are more than 21,000 children without a home.
At my previous church in New York I would host a night in early November for area youth to sleep outside in cardboard boxes. This was an attempt to show the youth what it felt like to not have a solid roof over their heads.
Initially they were excited about this project but by 3:00 in the morning they wanted someplace warm to go. We would talk about their experience and how this is a reality for many people. We learned together things that we can do to follow the Biblical principal to love one another as God loves us.
We studied together Matthew 25 and ask one another “when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
I have been a part of a focus group in Gardner since last July to talk about homelessness in our community. There are many individuals and families that do not have adequate housing and they are suffering because of it.
Many of the area churches, as well as other organizations in the community are giving their time, energy and resources to put together a piloted program to see if it is possible to establish emergency housing for families in need.
The group is called Gardner Emergency Housing Mission (or GEHM for short). We have come a long way thanks to the generosity of this community.
The piloted program is looking to kick off in the next month and host two families for 30 days. We know it is a temporary fix but with a successful piloted program we can do more amazing work together.
If you want to learn more about what the focus group is doing please let me know. We have a training on February 11th at 10:00 a.m. at Faith Lutheran Church. We also have a website and a Facebook group. You can access both by going to gehm.co
Thank you for your support for the people of our community. Thank you for welcoming the stranger, giving the hungry food, the thirsty drink, clothing to the name and visiting the sick and in-prisoned. You are a blessing!