Homeless at HeartHomeless shelters, penthouses, rundown neighborhoods and suburbs are filled with the walking wounded, people troubled from the inside out with the scars of life written on their souls.
His eyes never leave the floor as he wanders in after service begins. No hope. Desperate. Tormented. He plucks at his tank top and takes a back seat. Fidgety and uncomfortable with the “Jesus words” being spoken, I wonder if he’ll make it through. He doesn’t and bolts for the door. I let him go…
Chapel at the homeless shelter isn’t mandatory. He comes back a few minutes later. Wearing baggy gym shorts and a three-sizes-too-big white tank top, he is a young man with cropped blond hair. His eyes belie his fragile state. His light skin is covered with an angry red rash, across his shoulders, down his arms and around his neck. He sits on the far side of the room in the back, plucking nervously at his tank again.
The rash. The Jesus words. I realize he’s uncomfortable. Seventeen others have ventured into this Wednesday night summer service we host, dotting the small chapel from front to back. There are wary looks. People are mostly sitting alone, except for the “couples” just exchanging names for the first time. They’re seeking hope; a quiet place in the storm.
People’s lives are intersecting at crossroads that feel more like dead ends right now. Homeless in the world; homeless at heart. The minister talks about God’s grace. I watch the young man from a side view, praying under my breath. He’s now weeping and wiping away tears with his tank top. Squirming and losing control of his emotions, he can’t take it any longer and makes a beeline for the back door again. I get there first and place a hand on his arm.
“Please don’t go. God has something for you here,” I whisper. His nod is almost imperceptible. He stays and sits again. I glance over. His head is buried in his shirt, shoulders heaving, as he weeps in silence. Altar call. Salvation offered through Jesus Christ.
Carter (not his real name) and five others come forward for prayer. As I pray and talk to him, his story falls out in jagged pieces through his sobs. Something told him to come to chapel, he says. He’s just out of prison, probably headed back, he says … 20 years old … sister and her child at the shelter … skin cancer … parents gone.
“Have they died?” I ask. No, just gone. I thank Jesus for saving him and ask for God’s peace to surround him, for God to give him hope and a future. Then we send him out fortified with the love of God and a handful of homemade brownies.
My mama heart rejoices and aches for him all at the same time. Will he be back? How will he recover from a life in shambles? What does God want me to do with this burden, this hope, this sadness, this stirring? How can I cooperate with God to make a difference for the Carters of this world? What is my small part? What is yours?
Homeless shelters, penthouses, rundown neighborhoods and suburbs are filled with the walking wounded, people troubled from the inside out with the scars of life written on their souls. They need someone to introduce them to Jesus and simply walk beside them. The homeless at heart are waiting for us.
“Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies. For he has gathered the exiles from many lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. “LORD, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. He led them straight to safety, to a city where they could live. Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:2-9 NLT).
DJ May Hejtmanek serves on the Advisory Board of The Salvation Army in Tulsa, OK.