If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. – Deuteronomy 15:7-8
I had never done homeless ministry, not officially. Granted, I had made it a habit to send a sub lunch to the lady who parks herself on the curb outside the Publix where I shop, but I had never actually interacted with her. To be honest, I was a little afraid.
Then I learned we would distribute hygiene kits, waters and Bibles to the homeless of Anchorage.
First, imagine being homeless in Anchorage, where temperatures can dive well below zero, and more than 6 feet of snow can descend upon you in the winter. Even in the summer, when it’s often rainy, it can feel cold, at least to this Floridian. I’m convinced Anchorage would pretty much be the worst place to be homeless on the entire planet.
Even on the day we were to minister to the homeless, I was nervous and almost wishing I could be doing something else. We were told to set up our table across from a homeless shelter. We had added a few dozen doughnuts to the mix, so we set up tables for all our freebies – or at least we started to, until two police officers told us we didn’t have a permit to be there and we had to move. Pronto. And no matter where we moved, we couldn’t distribute the doughnuts, with or without our food permit.
We finally set up in a food stand parking lot where the homeless could see us from outside the shelter. Within a few minutes, they began to flow steadily toward us. They were dirty, smelly, with scaly skin on their faces and hands, but I was determined to show them respect. We shook hands. We hugged. And what I saw was not homeless people but people.
(You can see me – the short one in the red jacket – and a team member talking with a homeless Anchorage resident above.)
People like you and me, many of whom loved the Lord. They were kind and loving and gracious and grateful with no expectation of entitlement. One lady hugged me and said, “I just love you.” And I loved her too. I loved the spirit within her, the genuineness that somehow had been fostered, not worn away, in her trials.
Quickly we realized they had no way to carry their supplies, so I began grabbing our orange church-issued backpacks, emptying them and giving them to our new friends. As we were again chased away, this time by a business owner, we drove past one recipient kneeling in prayer beside the road, orange backpack at his side. Our hearts were simultaneously broken and filled.
That night a group of men carrying their orange backpacks saw us in Downtown Anchorage. “You be safe,” one advised us after we talked for a while. They wanted us to be safe – we, who had a safe place to stay where all our physical needs would be met; they, whose needs were seldom met or, as we saw, were met with great difficulty. I could not comprehend it. I still can’t.
I had been home for more than a week when I saw a homeless woman at an intersection. I had seen her before. I wanted to do something. Then I remembered a high-protein snack bar I kept in my purse for hypoglycemic emergencies, so I rolled down my passenger window and handed it to her. Like my Alaskan friends, she too was grateful, and I found myself wishing I could have done more.
A couple of days later, a man was begging in another intersection. This time I had deliberately stocked up on high-protein snack bars so I could be ready. Then within a couple of more days, I gave a second snack bar to the woman who had received one earlier in the week. My goal is to distribute gospel tracts and snacks if I can grab both quickly enough as I drive past.
Next summer, Lord willing, I’ll again minister to the homeless of Anchorage. I don’t know how many familiar or new faces I’ll see. I do know I will see them in a different way than I initially did, and I do know I am a better person because of them.