Tonight I set out on a little adventure with the Union Gospel Mission. It was Search & Rescue night. What this means is we drove around the streets looking for people who might need a little help. When we found people, we would add their location to the list of places Union Gospel Mission goes each night to help its “guests.” It was about thirty degrees out. Way too cold to be outside, and waaaaay too cold to be outside SLEEPING. We were warned that many of the people we would encounter would be under the influence of something. I’ll admit I was a little nervous. I was especially nervous as we were walking up to people under dark bridges and in alleyways.
The biggest surprise for me though was what happened when I asked them if I could pray for them. Most said yes. I got to hear their names, ask what I could pray for, and get a glimpse into the humanity behind the faces of homelessness. Most were well dressed, hard to believe they were homeless. One man I prayed with seemed to be the leader of his pack. When I asked him what he needed me to pray for, he said his safety. My thought was, “You are who I would have typically thought I needed prayers to be safe from.” I was astounded by my own ignorance. No, this wasn’t a bad man. He was a man going through a bad time. He was scared on the street, just like anyone would have been.
I prayed tonight with a woman named Mary. Mary was probably in her seventies. At first sight, you saw a rugged-looking homeless lady. But up close, I saw beauty and sadness in her eyes. I saw a woman who needed a second chance. I saw a woman who was cold, lonely, and needed a friend. I don’t know what happened to Mary to get her in this situation, but I do know she had no business sleeping out on the street cold and alone.
I am forever grateful for this evening. Grateful for the opportunity to meet these brave people and that they let me in a little bit. I enjoyed my encounters and felt sad to have to leave and go to the next spot. I kept thinking over and over, “I bet in a different situation, these people would be my friends.” They were so friendly and personable.
I am still processing what I experienced and I’m sure I will be for some time, but I think my takeaway from last night is, when I see people panhandling or sitting on a street corner, I know they have a story. There is a real person behind the “Please help” sign who truly does need help. I think a smile, offering some food, and definitely a little prayer will go a long way. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. May God bless each of them and help them find their way.