“This may be the biggest social media war on any issue that I’ve ever seen.”
I immediately knew what was being referenced: the refugee crisis.
All day long, I waded through my Facebook feed seeing snippets and thoughts about the refugees being accepted into the United States. No matter what position was taken in the original posting, there were just as many “yes, but” comments as there were hoorahs. As a dear friend put it so well, it was like watching a ping pong match with no ability to peel the eyes away.
We need to protect, help, and strengthen our own, they say. We need to protect, help, and strengthen the weary refugee, they say. Matthew 25, they quote. Look at history, they cry. What if there are terrorists(?), they fear.
My heart, and it seems the country itself, is a hung jury.
Despite my own internal revelry, I began to realize that there was something that I could actually speak to: helping America’s homeless. Whether referencing them to point out that we need to take care of our own homeless crisis or to accuse someone of not helping the homeless here, thus nullifying an opinion on keeping refugees out of the country – it seemed that there was a general consensus: “we” need to come to the aid of the homeless in America.
Having loved and given much in the past year to homeless relationships and initiatives in the Tampa area, I now understand that it is not easy to build relationships with them or to care for them.
I do not throw caution to the wind in the name of love and self-sacrifice – there is most certainly a measure of wisdom dispersed to each of us who wears the Spirit and still goodness and mercy to those who don’t – so please read the following with fresh eyes and a pure heart.
It bothers me greatly when others (so flippantly) say “we need to be helping the homeless here!” because on the flip side of it being a true statement, as well as a beautiful, rewarding experience that benefits those in need- it also has the potential to be a painful, emotionally draining journey for those trying to serve.
I will not speak to families evicted from their homes due to back rent, to those fallen on hard times due to unemployment, or the young fatherless. I speak to those who are far past those circumstances, because those men and women are the friends that I have made.
Many of my homeless friends are dry wells. They are battling very, very heavy things that result from years of abuse. Physical, sexual, substance, social. They were not helped or did not accept or seek help at the outset of their problem – and the resulting feelings have colored their perception of others and the world for years, if not for their entire life.
I love on these homeless friends, feed them, and give of my time and energy – but the problem is much worse than I realized. It goes much further back into the stories of their lives – and finding the source is much like searching for the back to your earring when it has fallen on shaggy carpet.
This type of homelessness is physical, mental, and emotional – and it is much more difficult to be rescued from because it does not find healing in your handouts. The kindness, the love, the effort – it has all been rejected at times by those that I have tried to help. This response has left me wounded, confused, hurt, and ultimately embittered in moments where I’ve felt as if I’ve failed at something that should be “easy”. Looking at each relationship apart from the other, I know that these men and women at one point in time would have reached back in response, and that is comforting – but there comes a point in that life where one stops reaching and begins to retreat. The privileged need to realize that thousands of quarters have been dropped into the cups of the homeless, thousands of meals dished out, but few of us have ever come with the promise of a true home.
Having shared some of my experiences with the homeless in and around the Tampa area – I feel confident in what I am about to say: caring for the homeless (of many years) in America is a very, very different thing than caring for a Syrian refugee. I feel that it does a grave injustice to each of these situations to lump them together and discuss them in one swing. Like apples and oranges, these are two vastly different types of “homelessness.”
I don’t feel the need to explain these differences. They are evident, and you’re all capable of researching yourselves. I can say, however, that these refugees are at the beginning of their homeless journey – a place where each of my friends described above were at one point in their lives.
Before you speak so plainly about experiences before having shared them – please think, and perhaps consider not saying anything at all. Rather, would you step outside and breathe in a moment with someone in need? Seek them out, walk with them, pray for them – and find ways to offer “home”. It is a weary task, as I mentioned – but it is better, by far, than staying inside our paneled houses only to dream about what a purposeful life would look like.
We will meet face-to-face with One who was once homeless with nowhere to lay His head – and in that moment, I’m guessing that we won’t be asking Him to play ping pong.
I am praying over this – and praying for a home on high, where all will meet their Maker and, if only for a moment, share in His glory.