December 3, 2012 by Josh
by Sandra Ramsey
The Director of Cornerstone Community Outreach, Jesus People USA’s multi-faceted shelters and services to the homeless of Uptown, Chicago.
Unfortunately, our largest population is children, up to two-thirds of the population. And for many of them, coming into a shelter is a step up. Nothing seems to escape them, including the things they’ve suffered, as well as the difference or the change they see as they enter our programs. I’m always taken by surprise when even the littlest kids call out my name. They take notice more than we think. They usually thrive because there are basic things such as consistent food, heat, and safety, and a general loving atmosphere. Poor and needy children are another whole category to keep on our concern radar. For every poor and needy adult, there are many times children who suffer along with that adult, who don’t have any say or control over what is happening to them. As Christians we do not want them aborted, but after they’re born, do we have any responsibility to them?
Sometimes when I meet people and hear what they have gone through, I think it will be a miracle if they make it. Years ago when I first met Helen she was drug addicted with six children. I heard her story of abuse and neglect in her own life and I put her in the “no-bootstrap” category. Although I encouraged her outwardly I had no vision for her. I figured, “Let’s try to get her some housing and go on to the next person.” Well we did house her and poured services on her and her family, and each tool that we gave her took hold of. Today, she has been successfully housed for years, none of her children do drugs, and all have graduated from high school.
Karen, mother of four small children, was so what I call “naughty,” drug addicted and scamming, pushing the limits and going over the limit of every rule or guideline we had. Very quickly into our program, she left her children with us never to return. Several years later, she came to visit us dressed in a professional business suit having been in a program successfully working for 18 months (which was a long time for this woman).
Although not all people will be successful like Karen or Helen, I personally began to think to myself, “Never say never,” and I added on “As long as you have breath in your body, there’s hope.”
Why should we care? Do they really matter?
I am a different person today thanks to the gifts of personalities I have come into contact with through the years. God didn’t just hand this difference to me, I had to live through it under His consistent, sometimes painful and irritating direction. This is the best job I’ve ever had. This is an awesome job AND an awful job. It’s awful because there is homelessness in the first place, it’s awful not to have this most basic of need met in life. But it’s awesome in that it is a mission field, a privilege, to be able to help people and to try to share with them in an essential and practical way what God might be like and what He could do for them.
[One] way to be responsible… would be a specific burden or calling to go into full-time work with the poor and homeless. If you think this might be a tugging or calling in your life, try to get away!
Seriously, first look around in your own personal life for that needy person, second, spend time in your local shelter or church soup kitchen, being consistent, letting the people grow you. God will lead you in the midst of this to help you figure out if this is the work He has for you or if you’re just feeling warm and cuddly towards helping people for a minute.
Remember I never intended to do this kind of work, but this is the best job I’ve ever had. However, if I did not have a call or burden FROM THE LORD, if I did not have His constant help and presence on a daily basis, I would not do this kind of work. First, it’s just too hard and second, I am not that nice. So if the calling or the yearning is still there, hook up with an agency on a serious level. Work at the one in your city, do an internship somewhere, ask God and he will direct you.
Working at our shelter in Chicago is like working in a large refugee camp. There is never enough staff, never enough supplies and way too many people. We run out of dinner some times, we get behind in our bills, and we’re usually messy somewhere. We call our work “managed chaos.” If you think you want to work with the poor and needy here in the States or even if you want to do this work overseas, come to Chicago, visit us, and we can help you figure out if this is the work for you, because if you can make it with us, you will probably be more prepared for work wherever the Lord leads you.
Let me leave you with one simple verse, Ps. 86:1:
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.