I attended an excellent training session to be a “navigator” for Project Homeless Connect, but as the day approached, I noticed I was experiencing a few twinges of nervousness. I arrived that morning and stood on a balcony overlooking the large university athletic center where the event was taking place. Powerful emotions began to stir within me. My view was of hundreds of volunteers who were gathering in expectation of spending the day with just as many women, children and men who had begun arriving from the city’s homeless shelters. Trying to hold back a rush of unexpected tears, I made my way to the line where we as navigators waited for partner assignments.
The first person (I will call Josh) who was assigned to me was young and reminded me of my twenty-something sons. My desire to partner with him to find a way to positively impact his life began to burn within me as we visited medical, dental, housing and employment booths/stations. As we spent time together, we both began to relax as we explored various resources. It was obvious (though unspoken) that we could only begin to make a few inroads in such a short time. My prayer that day was that perhaps it was a new beginning for him.
At one point in the early afternoon, he mentioned that he would like to take a break and we designated a place to meet so that we could finish with the housing and employment sections. Josh never returned. I sat in our agreed upon meeting area for a long time staring at the door but Josh didn’t come back. Finally, I turned in his partially completed worksheet. I instructed the greeters to come and find me if he reported back but I had to leave the table quickly because the tears were flowing. As I thought about him the faces of my own sons were once again appearing in my thoughts.
Many people found excellent resources that day including others with whom I had the privilege of partnering. In the days and weeks that have followed, I have continued to carry the memory of Josh in my heart. Each night I wonder where he is sleeping. I pray, “Please God, journey with him.”
During a follow-up gathering to provide a time for social analysis, those of us who had volunteered were invited to wrestle with our deepest feelings about both personal and systemic inadequacies. We now had stories, faces and people to connect with the issue of homelessness. We realized that we were face to face with God’s challenging call to discipleship.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, I am drawn to the story of a woman named Tabitha who was a disciple in the early church. Her call led her to stand in solidarity with the poor, most especially widows. She may have wrestled with anguish as well but it didn’t stop her from answering God’s call.
“Tabitha is an important person in the Christian community at Joppa…Indeed, Tabitha is identified as a ‘disciple.’ She is the only woman explicitly identified as a disciple in Acts…it becomes clear that Tabitha is valued as a philanthropist, a woman, seemingly a widow herself, who takes care of the needy widows in Joppa out of her own resources…It is no wonder that the widows weep when she dies and are among the first to be shown that their benefactress has been restored to life…” The Women’s Bible Commentary
A disciple is one who undertakes the discipline of her/his teacher. Like Tabitha, our discipleship invites us to follow our teacher, Jesus Christ. If we are called to act and stand in solidarity with the poor, we must also get in touch with our own poverty whether it is emotional, spiritual, moral, physical or material.
My day with Project Homeless Connect touched me deeply and I plan to participate again next year. I will continue to pray for the young man who invited me to search for truth. God is also calling me to continue to find ways to participate in efforts to impact poverty and homelessness. May God also continue to help me get in touch with my own inner poverty each and every day of my life.
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