"I thought it would be like a soup kitchen"

When we hear the words of the Great Commission, to “go out and make disciples of all nations” Christians often overlook our own communities.
                  But there is a certain glamour attached to helping the homeless. There is a soup kitchen mentality that exists. Many believe that the best way to serve the homeless is to literally serve them.
                   But that is not necessarily what helping a homeless neighbor looks like. Any time we have an idea in our head of how helping someone will turn out, God will often remind us of how awfully small we are in comparison to the wonderful world he designed.
                  At my second community barbecue of the summer, the first one ever held in Downey, there was a picture in my head of what it would look like, although I knew that the results would be unpredictable.
                  But there were plenty of volunteers and the tables were lined with fresh, yummy food. So if I have volunteers, and if I have food, the homeless would just HAVE to come, right??
                  After 5:00 rolled around and people started to pack up and leave, a handful of homeless neighbors had come by. But the last thing I felt was disappointment.  Amazing things had happened in two hours. A group of people who would not normally spend a Friday afternoon together were able to enjoy each other’s company. A man who was struggling to get an ID who had never heard of Kingdom Causes Bellflower was interested in learning more about the opportunities that were available to him. People, both neighbors and volunteers, were able to reach out, build relationships with one another, and get a glimpse of God’s Kingdom in action.
I heard a group of volunteers discussing their disappointment by their less than warm and fuzzy hearts.
One muttered, “I thought it would be like a soup kitchen.”
The other day a friend of mine was at an event where samples were being given, and when he had more free samples than he could bear, he offered a homeless man on the street a bag of pretzels. The man turned the pretzels down, and my friend recalled he felt insulted that the man would not take his free pretzels, “when he didn’t know where his next meal would come from.”
We have this stereotype of homelessness. Hungry. Dirty. Drunkards and Druggies. And we have preconceptions of what “helping” them looks like.
Like any stereotype, these characteristics do at times apply, but there is no reason to justify mistreatment, judgment, or complete apathy because someone seems to fit into a certain group of people. Nor does it validate our self-righteous attitudes when we set out to help those who are homeless.
                  The volunteers at the barbecue and my friend at the street event exhibit this mentality that they are doing those who are homeless a favor through hand outs and pity.
                  When our “good deeds” don’t turn out the way we expect, we often feel disappointed and discouraged. But oftentimes our good deeds are not what are needed by the community.  It might take creativity and good listening to truly understand what is needed of you to build God’s Kingdom, but when we listen and are aware of one another through building relationships first to even begin to understand a need, amazing things can happen in a community.
It is crucial to remain not only humble and selfless but to remain flexible, and understand that God has a plan for the Kingdom that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
 -Shannon Turner