The HOPE Paradigm
1. Building relationships with friends, not merely engaging in a project to feed the homeless.
Too often outreach ministries begin with huge, well laid plans to solve all of the world’s evils. Indeed, when we first started taking food to the homeless this was our primary goal. However, after spending some time building relationships with people that live on the streets whom we consider to be genuine friends, humility has set in and the quick-fix plans have all been abandoned. The world will not be changed overnight, and the quick-fix project approach neglects one of the central facets of Church’s mission- relationship building. So while bigger plans continued to be made on a weekly basis and larger, seemingly unattainable goals are still being set, I find it imperative to emphasize the need for sustained love and compassion on a weekly- even daily basis, exercised through the utmost of prayerful patience. Love suffers long, love endures, and the sacrificial love of Christ toward a fellow neighbor sustained over a prolonged period of time is the only way to transform an individual from a life of drugs, alcoholism, depression, or sheer slothfulness into a faithful member of God’s community and a contributing citizen of the wider society. As one author states regarding this topic, “It takes years to build the kind of relationships that result in transformation.” If, as the representatives of Jesus, we are not eager to build relationships with homeless people, why would they be eager to build a relationship with Jesus? The people we serve on the streets are not the objects of our charitable projects, they are our friends, people created in God’s image, broken brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, and they are to be treated as such with longsuffering compassion. Our number one goal is to build vibrant, lasting friendships.
2. HOPE is not a merely cause but a community
It is not very difficult to get people to throw some of their excess money to a benevolent cause, yet it is trickier to compel them to grasp the vision of becoming part of a mutually sacrificial community. Though (as stated above) we do have future plans to join hands with others in the cause of ending or at least drastically mitigating the issue of homelessness in our city, state, nation, and world (so help us God), we understand that this is best done through the construction of a loving community. As we press forward, our goal is not merely to move people to donate financially to our “cause,” but to invite them to participate in the compassion of this community by coming out to the park and eating with us and our friends on at least a semi-regular basis (one Saturday a month for those who have such availability). Humans have what are called mirror neurons. When a human witnesses another human overcome with a certain emotion- be it love, sadness, anger, or what have you- the same neuron which causes that emotion triggers in the witness. This is no more obvious than in watching movies. Why do I, who did not necessarily grow up with a loving father that was willing to give his all for my well-being, cry every time I watch John Q? How come when one baby starts crying in a room, the other babies in the room begin crying as well? Because of mirror neurons. In an effort to move people beyond just sacrificing money for a “cause,” to participating in a sacrificial community, we invite all people to the park to see what we are doing with their own eyes, hoping that mirror neurons will be triggered and people with the means to assist will be moved to compassion by the plight of their neighbor.
3. Redefining “success” as “faithfulness”
Normally we judge success at any level by the number of goals attained. One is “successful” in corporate America if they climb the long ladder to the top and acquire a high-paid secure position in upper management. Parents “successfully” raised their children if they grow up to fit a certain mold shaped by society. A “successful” evangelist is one who repeatedly wins new converts to the faith. These are all good measurements of success and I’m not attempting to downplay them, but the kingdom of God does not measure success in these terms. The greatest success heralded by Christianity is the achievements of Christ’s death upon a cross, which was originally perceived by his disciples as an utter failure. Jesus’ death was successful in that it was the culmination of his faithful life before the God of Israel, and as a result of his faithfulness he was able to restore the relationship between God and his wayward creation. Likewise, we cannot measure success in how many homeless people turn their lives around and dedicate themselves to serving the Lord. Our success will come in following the model of Jesus as we remain faithful amidst the agony of failure after failure and letdown upon heaps of letdowns. Remember, God vindicates faithfulness to his mission, just as he vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.