This last semester, the options where I could serve when I began were extremely limited due to COVID-19, and it was difficult to keep the relational element of the intent of serving as well. However, I served with OurCalling, a faith-based organization that leads the homeless to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle by building lasting relationships and making disciples on the streets. I served in every role I could, which included serving lunch, going out on “search and rescue”, stacking chairs, and helping with meal preparation in the kitchen. I spent most of my time sitting in on the recovery classes though. Again, I did not have much of a chance to build relationships in any of these roles, but it was still an experience that helped me grow in love and compassion for “the least of these”.
What was most apparent to me was that every man is both created in the image and with the likeness of God, and yet fallen and subject to the power of the devil. It was evident that spiritual death, or total depravity of human nature is just as prevalent on the streets of Dallas as it is elsewhere. Just like myself, these homeless people were powerless sinners, born in separation from divine grace and in dire need of a Savior. Their situation is no different than mine in that regard, and there is nothing any of us can do to change their status as sinners. They may have different sin struggles than I do, particularly because I have never struggled with addiction or faced the environment they face in being homeless. But my sin merits death just as theirs does. The good news that applies to me applies to them as well. Although their practical good news is that there are ways for them to get clean and get off the streets; the ultimate good news of the Savior’s incarnation, death, and resurrection is their hope. Through Him, God offered for them what they can not do for themselves. He took the punishment they deserve and gave them new life while they are still spiritually dead. All they must do is acknowledge they are sinners and “believe in the Lord Jesus,” and they will be saved. The same is true of me.
Especially as I sat in the recovery classes, observing some as very engaged and others as likely just taking advantage of the opportunity to sit in a chair and be indoors (and sleep with their head on the table), I wondered how long it would be before they grasped the detestability of sin and death as adversaries of God. I wondered what some of them even thought of God. Although there were some that were engaged that seemed to genuinely want a relationship with God, and even some that knew the Bible better than I did, I could not help but wonder what was missing in their lives and what was keeping them from getting clean and walking with the Lord. These homeless people and their situations were notable examples of sin allowed by God. “It’s not a neutral tool God uses to accomplish His will but a force that acts against his revealed, moral will; He exercises His sovereignty to reverse its effects and redeem those who suffer from it.”[i] Scripture says death is “the last enemy.”[ii] I wondered if the homeless were flirting with sin or were grappling with it. One of the very practical things that was talked about in the recovery class was for them to surround themselves with friends who want to fight addiction and want to get off the streets. It sounded like where they were living or sleeping and who they were spending time with could have potentially enormous influence.
As much as I wondered how they got to the point they were at and what was keeping them from changing it, I felt love and compassion for them; and I appreciated what OurCalling is doing. I love that they are caring for all the homeless individuals with dignity as image bearers of God. The experience was a good reminder we are all lost sinners, corrupted and guilty. “And yet though we are warped we are not worthless. Even though we are vitiated we are yet valuable.”[iii] Even in their shattered homeless situation, Scripture depicts them as valued, as created in the image of God, “and that image – though effaced – is not erased.”[iv]
[i] Svigel, Exploring Christian Theology, vol. 2 (Bethany, 2015), 89
[ii] 1 Cor. 15:26
[iii] Svigel, Exploring Christian Theology, vol. 2 (Bethany, 2015), 88
[iv] Ibid., 88