Guest Post by Pastor Brian Nixon
I remember the first time I spent the Easter holiday at a homeless shelter. I did so, not as a homeless person, but as an evening counselor. The year was 1989.
I recently began working for the Tri-City Homeless Shelter in the Bay Area of California, acting as the evening counselor for the family portion of the ministry.
In an attempt to offset the increasing homeless population in the tri-city area (Fremont, Hayward, and Newark), the local churches started the shelter, allowing the homeless to stay in various church buildings while a permanent solution was found for long-term housing.
I was impressed that so many churches participated-Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Brethren, Catholic and the like, opting to help humans rather than being overly concerned with four walls and a carpet. It was a marvelous, God-honoring time.
Through my experience working at the shelter, I came to think a homeless shelter as a picture of the Easter message.
A homeless shelter is a place where people stay who has no home. Jesus is home for people without a place, spiritually speaking. A homeless shelter provides sanctuary, meals, and care, as does Jesus. But more profoundly, Jesus is our meal, our shelter, and our sanctuary; He is our all in all.
Furthermore, Jesus came to redeem humanity, to offer the world hope, to show the love of God, and serve humanity. Jesus came for humans-all people: the homeless, disenfranchised, and the down-and-outers, the up-and-comers, and the overachievers.
So, too, a Christian homeless shelter: it yearns to provide hope, show love, partner with God in the renewal of a life, and serve as many people as possible, to be the hands and feet of the Living Lord.
And like the Tri-city Homeless Shelter was not too concerned about a physical building (will the floors get dirty with people sleeping on them?), but with the human building-people; so too, Jesus is concerned with people, not necessarily property.
Jesus came to save and seek the lost (see John 3:16 and Luke 19:10). And though a homeless shelter can’t save a person in a salvific sense, a shelter can lend a hand and provide the necessities of life (food, lodging, and care), affording people to the opportunity to find the Savior who can and will save.
During my time as an evening counselor, I invited a few of the homeless friends to the Easter sunrise service held at a park in Fremont, California. My pastor, Jeff Neuman-Lee (Church of the Brethren), helped organize the event.
I don’t recall how many homeless people came, save one family. Though the mother’s name escapes me, the girl, Tamika, is etched in my mind. She was beautiful: dark skin, with corn-rolls that ran into a pigtail, and a smile that would not end. Mom had recently lost her job, causing the family to end up at the shelter. The family was precious to me. We talked many long hours-about the Lord, life, and the future; topics often discussed at Christian-run shelters.
Since I was in a rock band at the time, I wrote a song about Tamika called “Someday Now.” The chorus gave hope by posing a question: “Someday now, someday now. When will life change?” I trusted that someday Tamika and her family would be back on their feet; life will change for the better.
And one verse read, “Tamika, I hear you; saying words that saved you; knowing Him that loves you. Read the words again, from Genesis to the end, and watch your life change…”
One of the privileges I had at the shelter was to read the Bible and share the love of God with the children. And Tamika was one who responded with great enthusiasm and interest.
Someday Now was about families caught in a homeless cycle. Tamika gave me perspective and inspiration to write the song and think through the problems of homelessness. After Tamika’s family got out of the shelter-and I had moved on to full time ministry-they came to my wedding. Other than my bride, it was the best wedding gift I received.
This is just a small picture of what a Christian homeless shelter offers: a safe place, a caring place, and a devoted place. A place where we can all sing “Someday Now,” trusting God to work in the lives and hearts of people, letting them know that He has a plan and purpose for their life-beyond a shelter.
But most importantly, a Christian homeless shelter lets its people know that the Lord is willing to lay down His life in love, so others may one day live for the Lord through love.
So remember the homeless this Easter season, praying for them and supporting the shelters that seek to love the homeless as Christ, helping, as Joy Junction states to, “give a hand up to those in need.”