Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Actions speak louder than words

We all wish we could do more to help solve the many problems in the world.  Many of us, especially at this time of year, try to help out by giving donations to charitible causes.  In the book Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski, a young man feels compelled to act on his desire to really understand the problem of homelessness in America.  As he stated, "We were created to be and to do, not merely to discuss.  The hypocrisy of my life troubled me."  He made the decision to go onto the streets and live as a homeless person, both to experience homelessness, and to discover how churches are responding to the needs of the homeless.

At the time of his decision, Yankoski was a Christian college student.  Needless to say, his family and friends were somewhat shocked and dismayed at his decision.  He began slowly, volunteering at a homeless shelter and even gathering a group of advisors who helped him plan his journey.  Before he left, he was joined on his mission by another young man, Sam Purvis.  They both wanted to learn more about the problem, and felt that two men travelling together would have safety in numbers.

They set out to experience homelessness in 6 cities:  Denver, Washington, D.C., Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego.  They found differences in the homeless populations in each city.  In Washington, DC, for example, they found that most of the homeless people they encountered were African American veterans in their 50s.  In Portland, most of the homeless were young people in their teens and 20s.  And in San Francisco, they were dismayed at the racial hatred that played out frequently among the various groups. Mike and Sam took their guitars with them, and tried to earn money by panhandling.  This went better in some places than in others, but they were often able to make enough money for at least one meal per day.

They encountered a few people who helped them along the way, but for the most part, they found that to be homeless was to be invisible.  Whether through fear or some other reason, they found it was rare that anyone would even make eye contact with them.  The most shocking thing they discovered was that many churches were not only not helping the homeless, but were actively avoiding them.  They found churches that were padlocked when "church business" wasn't being held, and were told to leave several churches where they had come to either attend services or perhaps find a meal.  In one memorable instance, Mike and Sam slept in the doorway of a church to be there first thing in the morning when the doors opened.  They were awakened by singing -- every member of the church had entered for services through a side door, in order to avoid the two "vagrants" at the front door!

Through all of this, Mike and Sam knew that at the end of their journey, they had warm beds, clean clothes and hot meals waiting for them.  They constantly wondered and worried about the people who had been living for years in the existance that was nearly unbearable for them to endure.

At the end of the book, Mike gives many suggestions for people who might want to get more involved in working with the homeless.  He encourages everyone to step outside of their comfort zones and truly live the life that God intended.  I found the story to be very touching and encouraging.  It is wonderful to see someone who really puts his faith into action.

You can download an Under the Overpass action plan for Christmas here.

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Under the Overpass from WaterBrook Multnomah for posting my honest opinion

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