Updated: Dec 8, 2021
When I was in my early 20’s, I participated in a homeless outreach night with my young adult ministry. It was freezing cold that evening, with the wind chill factor below zero. We packed the church van with blankets, gloves, hats, and toiletries, and headed out around 7pm that night to various parts of Chicago where there was a large homeless community. About an hour into our outreach, we came across a group of homeless people who were huddled around a bonfire. We gave them the different items inside our van, and they graciously accepted. Then one of the homeless men, who I will refer to as Tom in this story, started to have a conversation with us. Initially, all I could think about was getting back in the nice, warm church van; but my self-centeredness eventually was confronted by the spirit of God that was on Tom. He began to share his story of how he lost his family, his job, his home, and eventually ended up on the streets. The more and more he talked, the less and less I began to see him as just another “homeless person.” This man could have been my brother, my uncle, or my father. I started to feel convicted because on any other day I would have driven right past him as if he was invisible because it was easier to ignore a homeless person than to look at the effects that poverty, drugs, and disinvestment has had on our communities.
As the conversation continued, Tom began to crack jokes with the group, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I stood there in silence, wondering how this guy who has nothing, could be so full of joy. Suddenly, the conversation shifted in a different direction. Tom began to share with us his faith in Jesus Christ. He said that although he is homeless now, he knows his situation is temporary, and one day he will be back on his feet again. Then he began to praise God in front of all of us, for keeping him safe and providing for him during that season in his life. I remember all of the members of the young adult ministry just standing there in silence, as we looked in amazement at Tom's faith. Although we organized this outreach to help people like Tom, that night, he was the one who helped us. Tom left an impression on me that day that would last a lifetime. He had everything in the world to complain about, but instead, he made a decision to identify everything he possibly could to praise God for.
There is so much that can be learned from Tom’s story. He understood that his situation doesn’t define who he is, nor does his circumstance control his joy, his peace, or his belief in God. Our conditions in life can change in a matter of seconds. One day we can believe we are in perfect health, and then the next day we get a negative diagnosis from the doctor. One day we go into work at a job we have been working at for 20 years, and the next day we get the pink slip. One day we are relaxing in the comfort of our home, the next day there is an electrical fire that burns our house down. Nothing in life is ever certain or secure, except for God’s love and sovereignty over our lives. Once we accept that, it will be easier for us to press through those moments in our lives that hard because we know that our joy and peace are based on something that will last forever, and that is God.
Every now and then I think of Tom, especially during those blistering cold days in Chicago. Even if I never have the opportunity to see him again, in my heart I believe he is okay because he knows where his hope and peace comes from.
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