Last night was our church’s small home group. Each week our group will discuss the sermon from Sunday, or chose a story from the bible to study. Our leader chose the book of Jonah for the next eight weeks. All I knew about Jonah was he was swallowed by a whale. I did not understand why and had never read the story. Here is what I learned last night.
God asked Jonah to go to Assyria and call the people to repentance. Assyria was an evil empire known for brutal murders. Jonah hated the Assyrians and only wanted vengeance rather than forgiveness for the people, so Jonah was disobedient and run away from God. Here we learn that Jonah had a selfish heart, wanting nothing to do with the “unlovable” people. He did not want the Assyrians to receive God’s mercy. In Jonah’s mind, they did not deserve forgiveness.
The question from the study asks us, who are the, “un-lovables” in our lives? Who do we feel uncomfortable to be around and share the word of God? All of us seemed to agree on particular groups of people; drug and alcohol abusers, homeless people and those of other non-Christian beliefs. I was reminded of a situation years ago that I knew I had to share.
While living in Oregon, I often asked God about the people I’d see on the streets begging for money, doing drugs, and causing havoc in the city. These were also God’s children, but could He expect Christians to feel the same way he did toward these people? This question had been on my heart for months. Most of us would be terrified to be anywhere near these people, which is why I avoided certain areas of downtown Portland. The famous, “Burnside Bridge” area was known as skid row. That was where the shelters were. Any day you could drive through the area and see dirty drunks, drug addicts, and undesirables just sitting on the sidewalks or mulling around begging for change.
It was an early Saturday morning when I woke up and heard God speak. “I want you to go down to Burnside and get the answers to the questions you pose. Remove all your jewelry and go as you are. Take your dog and do not be afraid, for I will be with you.” Like Jonah, I wanted to run the other direction. Was He trying to get me killed? That area is dangerous place, for a woman alone. However, God was persistent. I put on an old pair of thongs and a dirty pair of jeans and a ripped up, paint spattered T-shirt. I didn’t bother to brush my hair or my teeth. My 70 pound lab was excited to go for a ride. I was trembling as I neared the area. “Really God?” I asked. “Are you still with me? What do you want me to do?” ‘Just go’ is what came back in my head. “Trust in the lord your God and do not depend on your own understanding.” ~Proverbs 3:5.
I parked the car, and my dog and I walked toward the area where all the people hung out. It was still early so I rationalized that most of them would still be sleeping. I saw a man standing along- side the street with a sign asking for change. I asked him where the woman’s shelter was (I didn’t even know if there was one). He was very polite. He asked to pet my dog. He gave me directions to the shelter and asked me, “Do you need money miss? I only have 75 cents, but if you’re in need?”
I was touched by his generosity. I politely refused by saying, “God bless you, but I’m fine.” I continued my journey until I arrived at the destination. Tears filled my eyes at what I saw. There before me, stood twenty or more people, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and socializing with each other. I felt God’s presence and no longer felt fear. The questions I had began to fill my head. I was overwhelmed with emotion and suddenly, the tears were streaming down my face. A middle aged woman saw me as she passed by. She quickly turned around and asked me if I was ok. I explained that I wasn’t sure why I was here, but that God sent me. She smiled and said, “God sends most of us here. This is where we find refuge. You’re welcome to go inside and get a cup of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate and some breakfast.” Again, I was touched by a generous heart. She obviously sensed how fearful and uncomfortable I was, so she asked me to wait for her. She went into the shelter and came back with a cup of hot coffee and some pamphlets of services to help the homeless. I never knew such places existed. They had places to get clothes for little or no money, health care, haircuts, food, churches that welcome those in need, medications and services to get people signed up for food stamps and low income housing. It was another world.
The woman’s name was Jean and she introduced me to her close friend Marie. They both wanted to know my story, but I was just as interested in theirs. (I couldn’t reveal that I was not, ‘one of them’ so I listened). They had both been meth users. They had lived on the street for two years. The questions came pouring out of my mouth with such compassion and non-judgment, I knew it was God using me to help resolve the issues I had had in my heart. “Do you believe in God?” I asked. They both lit up with enthusiasm, “Yes” they answered. I posed an even more personal question, “Do you blame God for your situation? Don’t you think that God should help you?” What I heard next revealed to me what God wanted me to learn. Jean responded, “God has, and is helping me. It’s not His fault I’m an alcoholic and meth addict. Those were my decisions. Though it all, God kept me safe. He brought me to the shelter and is helping me get clean. We have our name’s on the low income housing list and are waiting for our own apartment. In the meantime, we meet with our sponsor, attend AA meetings two or three times a day sometimes, we have a roof over our head, food in our bellies and the holy spirit in our hearts.” She then pointed up toward “Snob Hill” where all the rich people live. “See those people? Those are the people I don’t want to become. They have huge mortgages, expensive toys, clothes, cars, and are stressed out all day, every day. Most don’t even know God or give thanks. They just go about their lives feeling entitled and look at those of us here as an eye sore, but I pray for them anyway. I pray they will find the Lord and have compassion for those of us that were less fortunate than they were.”
I felt the guilt swell up in me. I was one of those people she was referring to. And she was right, by most accounts, I did feel entitled. I had worked hard to get where I was. I believed in the Lord and I gave thanks, but there was something I had missed. How could I be more like Jesus? Marie then added, “And Jesus used to eat with the undesirable people in the community. He said they needed him more than the rich people thought they did, and he gave his love and blessings on them.”
Since that day, I have looked upon the homeless and the downtrodden differently. I realized than many of them are more obedient to God than those who play “Christian” on Sundays. I have been eternally grateful that God gave me this experience, and I felt His presence with me the entire time. I never felt in danger. He removed the fear and replaced it with curiosity and compassion. Thank you Lord Jesus. This was truly a leap in faith for me.