I grew up in the country- the riverbottoms and cottonfields of West Tennessee, specifically. Though for some, the jury is still out on whether I’ve grown up or not. But alas, I regress….
The move to Tulsa several years ago has been, shall we say, eye-opening. Tulsa is a lovely, progressive town with vision for growth, infrasturcture to support it, and all the political and social problems relative to a mid-major city in the midwestern United States.
The church I serve is downtown; the city is building a new baseball stadium across the parking lot from our main entrance (woo-hoo!!!!!). One block north of our main entrance is the city Greyhound Busline station. Two blocks west of our location is the YMCA. Travelling between the two sites are individuals and families with nowhere to live. Some are travelling through to other locations with a day or two layover; others migrate to the bus station hoping for a free meal or free bus ticket to a better way of life. The “Y” offers a hot shower and a hot meal and an overnight cot for men who are down on their luck. And every day and every night, they walk right by our church.
Last year we opened the First Baptist Church Caring Center on the other side of the bus station. There, we serve individuals and families who have overwhelming physical needs- food; clothing; companionship. Sometimes the Caring Center will send a family here for counsel; more often than not, the church sends people to the caring center for help. The Caring Center is staffed by a legion of volunteers and is supported through the budget of our church. It is a wonderful ministry, and literally hundreds and hundreds of struggling people have benefitted from its existence.
Yesterday was our annual Caring Center Outreach Luncheon, where dozens of volunteers cook a hot meal, prepare gift bags, and invite Tulsa’s homeless population to the church for a meal, some entertainment, and a presentation of the gospel message. It is a neat time; once you get over the intimidation of the dress- and- smell of most of the guests. We served a couple hundred hungry souls yesterday; some familiar to the churh and the caring center, some not. There were several who have been a part of the Tulsa homeless community for years now. We know their names, we know the general area in which they “live”. My heart breaks for them.
Most disturbing, however, was the number of children- and babies- that we saw yesterday. Single moms with infants living in their cars at night because they have nowhere else to stay. One mom was on the streets with her toddler daugter in order to escape an abusive situation at home. Beautiful newborn babies who laugh easily and cry loudly. Children who haven’t had a hot meal in days. While it is difficult to reserve judgement (“there, but for the grace of God, go I”) on the parents, it is obvious they are doing the best that they can. They provided a good meal for their kids yesterday, which was more than they got on Monday.
I think the Bible would have us be generous to this community- very generous. Grace is controversial at best, and at its worst, is indefensable. After all, isn’t that, at its very nature, the purpose of grace? To offer value and purpose and hope to the undeserving?
The truth is, none of us are deserving of any good thing. We are all blessed beyond belief, and grace is lavished on us every day. It’s time to send it on down the line.
We pray for our homeless community and attempt to serve their needs as best we can. And yesterday, it was good to see some folks still kicking, still “making it” on the streets. But our hope is that they can get off the streets, get their lives together, and either restore or build the necessary relationships that will keep them off the street. And so next year, we will see them as volunteers, not as clients.
By the grace of God.