What have I learned?

Three weeks is a very short time to build relationships and understand a particular context. However, I feel like I have been able to glean quite a bit from the AfterHours communities (those who meet on Monday evenings and those who I’ve met at the park).

First, being in a new place helped to reinforce some things I already understood but had a difficult time enacting in the comfort of my home community:

  • Every person has a story and sometimes the best thing I can do is listen.
  • I must push myself to engage; watching from the sidelines or from a pedestal is easy.
  • Most of the time, simple is better. Ministry isn’t (or shouldn’t be) Walmart.

Also, being in a new situation has allowed me to learn a lot about myself. I’ve realized more about how I function, what my strengths are, what I dislike and my dreams for the future. Thankfully, I’ve also gleaned ideas for ministry at home and hopefully have gained more insight into respectfully interacting with those who don’t have a permanent residence.

I’m hesitant to claim that I’ve learned a lot about the homeless community, since each new friend represents a different story and I’m sure my homeless friends in Denver are different than my homeless friends in Staunton. However, there are some common threads that I’ve noticed during my time here:

  • Many of my friends have mental or emotional illness. It’s hard to delineate the cause and effect; did homelessness cause mental illness or did mental illness contribute to homelessness? But it’s obvious that many of them have not received the support they need and aren’t capable of stability without a lot more support.
  • While some decline communion, a lot of my friends will receive communion in the park. Many of them are quite religious, while others run from the idea of God. Faith seems to take on extremes when basic neccesities are stripped away. I believe I have more appreciation for a theology that claims spiritual deliverance after death; when your life is hell, what else can you believe?
  • I’ve found that most of my friends will never beg for anything, and are really grateful for peanut butter and jelly.
  • Some people are really confused that we give them lunch with no strings attached. Many of the church groups that hand out lunches in the park make people pray or listen to a sermon before receiving food. For heaven’s sake, stop trying to spread the good news and BE the good news.

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been required to process my experiences and I have a hunch that if I’m more aware and intentional at home, I’ll learn a lot there too.

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