Friday Five (on Tuesday!): 5 Tips for Ministering to the Homeless.

Doing a homeless ministry was something I never imagined myself doing. I didn’t feel a special calling, and I suspected I lacked the appropriate skill set. But when a friend invited me to go with her to a local park one summer, I went along – to keep her from going alone. Imagine my surprise when the one who got the most out of the experience was *me.*

We parked near a picnic shelter where ten or twelve people hung out every day. They sat playing cards, talking, and one even had two dogs with him. We put our heads together and prayed just before our feet hit the concrete of the picnic area. My plan would’ve been to get to know them a little, break the ice as it were. Maybe the ministry part would come later.

Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ – Matt 25:40

My friend, though, jumped right in. “Does anybody here need Jesus?” she asked. Within minutes, we were praying the sinner’s prayer with two people, and a third was professing her need to rededicate. I stood back and watched in awe. God is so awesome!

If you’re thinking of undertaking a homeless ministry, or if you find that God has thrust you into one, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Bring the very basics. Bottled water and hard-boiled eggs are some of the easiest and most appreciated food items. Both can be consumed without utensils or preparation (or a can opener).
  2. Prepare to be hugged. The first time a smelly homeless man wraps his sweaty arms around you, brushing your cheek with his whiskers, you might shudder. But these people are hungry for human touch and will reach for you often. Just remember, you’re washable.
  3. Not everyone will respond to you, and that’s okay. They might on another day. Or maybe not. You’re doing what God called you to do, and that is what’s important.
  4. Try to listen more and talk less. These people lead chaotic and uncomfortable lives; they need to feel heard.
  5. Be safe at all times – and just because you feel comfortable, doesn’t mean you’re safe.

I still don’t feel like a homeless ministry is my forte. But I’ve learned a valuable lesson: there is no “us” and “them.” The people I’ve met are simply down on their luck, but they are parents, grandparents, pet owners, card players, art lovers, and just plain people. They have hopes and dreams and successes and failures. And Jesus loves them as much as He does you or me.

Photo Courtesy Garry Knight/cc/flickr