Why Is Ministry to the Homeless Critical for Our Christian Witness?

Why would a pastor who has a full-time job and a family of five feel compelled to extend himself to the point of taking on the rebranding and reprogramming of a homeless shelter? The simple answer is because I feel that God has led me to do so. Why would we rename it Catalyst Rescue Mission? A catalyst is an agent that provokes a significant change or action. We intend to be a place where significant change takes place!!   

My understanding of Jesus through scripture is that he was homeless during much of his ministry. In Luke 9:57-58 it says, {57} As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” {58} Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” No doubt Jesus can identify with many of the circumstances that surround our homeless population. Jesus is very familiar with feeling alone, being forsaken by family, being preyed upon by evil, wicked people whose intent is to do harm, not knowing where the next meal will come from, and wondering where the next warm place will be to lay his head. 

I believe that the way Jesus will recognize his people when he returns will be by the way they minister to the “least of these.” In Matthew 25:37-40 it says, {37} Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? {38} When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? {39} When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ {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.’” The great thing about this passage of scripture is the clarity of Lord’s instructed behavior: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, giving clothes to the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned. It is my belief that many of these characteristics are present in the lives of those who are homeless. When we do these things, we participate in the ministry Jesus would be doing if he were here. 

A frustrated community member emailed me and said, “I am very disappointed in the shelter being called a rescue mission.” She continued, “It is in my opinion a very dehumanizing term. We as Christians are not ‘rescuers’, but brothers and sisters to those in need.” I understand and respect her opinion; however, in Psalm 82:3-4 we find what I consider one of the greatest calls to action in the scripture which says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” God has called each of us to stand in the gap for vulnerable people. This means that we are to keep the wicked and evil people in our world from preying upon them. Many people who are homeless have never had parents who stood in the gap for them. Many people who are homeless have never had a friend or pastor stand in the gap for them. I think we each need to become those rare people who take God at his word and do what he says, especially in this regard. 

Because of my convictions and beliefs, I have led those that call Park Memorial UMC their church home to work with the homeless and transient population for the past 13 years. We have served a monthly meal in the shelter. We also have a strong working relationship with Exit 0 homeless outreach. An example of this relationship is the fact that two years ago, when Exit 0 had to vacate the warehouse space they were using, Park Memorial UMC extended the hand of fellowship and gave them ministry office space and storage space in our building. For the past five years we have allowed the Southern Indiana homeless population to use our address on their state issued IDs so that they have been able to attain them. Working with the shelter and with Exit 0 has unveiled my eyes to the plight of our most vulnerable neighbors. I can no longer plead innocence or say that I am unaware of the systemic problems facing the very people that Jesus calls us to minister to. 

I know the stories of injustice. I’ve seen people preyed upon by people who have offered their assistance. I have relationships with both Barbara Anderson and Paul Stensrud, and this experience has led me to the same conclusion I find in scripture, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). I’ve witnessed first-hand a few people giving it all they have, while the rest of our community acts like there is no problem. Unfortunately, I have been forced to come to the conclusion that many of our “social service agencies” are more concerned with their own program and program dollars than they are about addressing the larger issues that are plaguing Southern Indiana. 

I believe that we are responsible for the revelation that we receive. This means that God gives us the knowledge of things and expects us to use this knowledge to accomplish His Will for our lives. I began to feel my heart being stirred to do something about what I’ve come to understand; but I didn’t know how to begin, so I waited. I believed that God would reveal the timing; and shortly after I witnessed the amazing things that Homeless Prevention Task Force was able to accomplish at America’s Best, He did. 

Barbara called me and through the course of our conversation it became readily apparent that God was leading my heart toward the purchase of the shelter. The only problem with that was that I didn’t have any money. I had to communicate my heart to the Leadership Team at Park Memorial UMC. The amazing thing is that they were unanimous in their support and they have been nothing but Christ-like throughout this process. 

I am fully aware that we have a lot of work to do in the days ahead. I believe that if God calls you, then God will equip you for the work he has asked you to accomplish. This includes God bringing the right people to join you in completing his will for your life. I’m excited for what God has in store and can’t wait to see the lives he is going to change. Please pray for our efforts and for the people whose lives we will touch. Also pray and ask God how he might use you in our efforts. If one of the ways God would want you to contribute is for you to send a donation to Catalyst Rescue Mission; please make checks payable to Catalyst Rescue Mission, and send them to 1820 E. Park Place Jeffersonville, IN 47130.    

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