Over the past several decades, I’ve worked tens of thousands of unpaid hours, often every day and night, to help thousands of needy people, in Jesus’ name. In 2012, doing that became my full-time work, OneCandleMinistries.
Among countless other tasks, I’ve taken hundreds of individualsto, and advocated for them in courtrooms, and in government, medical, and many other types of organizations; taken them, and their children, to many different places, including emergency rooms, pharmacies, schools, scheduled appointments, parks, and entertainment events; taken care of their children; bought them food; paid their bills; bought them prescriptions and other necessities; talked with them; prayed with and for them; helped them make decisions and solve problems; and ministered to them in any other ways that I could.
As a result, every year since 2012, I’ve spent more than half of my wife’s tiny yearly income (our only income) — as well as significant chunks or our life savings — on my ministry.
Some of that began to change when I suffered a major stroke, after which, I spent a month, lying almost motionless, but mainly conscious, in a hospital bed, with nothing to do but think and pray.
After that experience, I became more cynical toward what had been my own ministry, as well as toward many of the people who I had previously thought that I had helped.
I began to view some of the homeless people that I had helped, completely differently — as skillful, experienced manipulators, rather than as helpless victims of unfortunate circumstances.
As people who had chosen to live their lives the way that they did.
As people who “were homeless” for a living.
And, as people who had used me for their own purposes, many different times, and in many different ways.
Many of them were young and able-bodied. They had no responsibilities, no accountability to anyone, no respect for anyone or for any earthly or heavenly laws, no moral compass, no concern for anyone else’s feelings.
No respect or trust of the local police, who many of them felt had always treated them aggressively, with negative bias, and disrespectfully.
And no desire to ever improve their lives.
For most of us, that would be an endlessly unfulfilling, unrelentingly depressing lifestyle.
But, over the past several years, as I’ve talked with many of them individually, I’ve been shocked to hear many of them admit that they really enjoy that lifestyle, and hope to live the rest of their lives that way, off of other people’s generosity.
From their bizarre, distorted view of life, that made sense. Why would they want to change anything?
Wearing free, donated clothing, which, when it gets dirty, is often simply thrown away and replaced with “new” donated clothing. Eating free, donated food every day for years, while relaxing on someone else’s sofa, or outside, in the shade of someone else’s trees, lying around in someone else’s air conditioned room, watching someone else’s cable TV, starting fights with each other, stealing and willfully destroying and/or defacing each other’s personal property, as well as that of various helping organizations, swearing at, yelling at, bullying, and telling dirty jokes to each other, talking, texting, viewing entertainment web sites, and posting to social media sites, from their often high-end smartphones, then topping off their long, idle hours of idle “partying” with self-generated lies, rumors, gossip, and soap-opera-like drama — and otherwise self-centeredly biding their time — often with a strong, angry sense of entitlement — until their next nightly rounds of substance abuse and/or other illegal activity and/or commitment-free, and — disturbingly often — unsupported-offspring-producing sexual encounter.
Plus, the city government publishes and gives away thousands of free copies of its thick booklet, that lists 17 categories of dozens of free local resources, necessities, opportunities, and services for homeless people, including housing, employment, legal aid, furniture, medical services that are completely paid for by the county, transportation, food stamps, child care, and many others.
As I said, over the past several years, I’ve had lengthy personal conversations with many of them. Some told me “back stories,” that — if they were telling me the truth — may have a lot to do with how they are now.
But that’s IF they were telling me the truth — not reciting carefully crafted stories that they had intentionally developed over time, to have maximum emotional effect on people like me.
It’s happened to me, many times before.
For example, I once drove someone to a distant grocery store, after they convinced me that they were desperate to buy some specific food for a starving relative, and that a particular store was the only place that they could buy it.
When we got there, they never even went into the grocery store.
After I waited in my car for quite awhile, they suddenly returned — from a nearby liquor store, carrying a backpack, full of shoplifted liquor.
Then, sitting in the back seat of my car, they called their relative, to assure him that they had gotten the liquor for his upcoming party.
Unfortunately, I think that some of this city’s homeless people have simply learned — from each other, as well as from some of us who try help them — and have then chosen to, intentionally act like children, consciously refusing to grow up and take care of themselves, knowing that others will — for various religious or secular reasons — do it for them.
After all, it’s common knowledge here, that a free plate of pizza and dessert tastes just as good, whether it’s from a church, a government agency, someone who drives around with food in their car…
…or from a dangerous cult.
Do you want to start feeding the homeless people in this city?
Get in line.
Here, every single meal, every week, is already spoken for — sometimes, by multiple providers at the same time.
And every homeless person in this city who I’ve ever spoken with, knows where to go, to get every meal for free, every day of the week.
But that doesn’t stop some of them from standing out on the sidewalk, at various intersections in town, “flying a sign” that announces to sympathetic drivers that they’re hungry.
Drivers who lean out of their car windows, and give them cash.
One time, two of us drove past a homeless man who was “flying a sign,” proclaiming that he was hungry, and so were his four children.
The truth was that we had already fed him.
And he doesn’t have any children.
Several months ago, a “homeless” man quietly confided to me that he rents a motel room, by the month, on a nearby tourist beach, to be used only for his weekly Saturday night parties.
And, earlier today, another “homeless” man told me a similar story: He actually lives in an expensive apartment, on a nearby beach, and owns a huge plot of land in another state.
Unfortunately, I think that some of us who are trying to help homeless people in this area, are sadly misguided.
When we treat them like helpless children, we fail to really help them.
With open hearts, and probably at least some sense of guilt, we simply give them stuff.
We try to provide all of their physical needs, which, in some cases, enables them to live unexamined lives of immaturity.
We unknowingly help them toward their eventual spiritual deaths.
It’s a heartbreaking truth for many of us to realize, about people for whom we really care.
It’s a difficult truth for many of us to understand.
It may be impossible for some of us to accept it.
But, often, all we’re really doing is making people feel more comfortable, while they stand in line, outside of the gates of hell.
Please don’t misunderstand me.
I’m bringing all of this up, in the fervent hope that it might provoke other Christians to think, pray, and discuss how this topic might affect their own work for the Lord.
I’m not trying to imply that anything in this post is true of all homeless people in this area, or of any other people or organizations, in other places.
Some of the homeless people that I know, are really fine, honest people, who have good hearts, and who try their best to serve God, as well as they know how.
Likewise, I’m sure that some people who work with the homeless, are knowlegable, expererienced people, who have very good hearts, and who know exactly how to prevent and/or handle the kinds of people and problems that I’ve described.
But, here at least, it seems pretty clear that we Christians need to learn how to do a much better job of being Christ’s ambassadors to non-Christian homeless people.
Unfortunately, as I’ve always said, “You’re never going to reach your destination, if you think that you’re already there.”
The Bible story of Jesus, miraculously feeding a large crowd of people, with only a few loaves and fishes, is an important story, for a number of reasons.
But, nowhere in that story does it say that, after the miracle, the crowd was so happy for their free food, that it followed Him from town to town after that, and He continued to feed them every day.
Or that, after He miraculously turned water into wine, at a wedding reception, He began to attend every wedding reception in the area, to “do his little party trick” for them all.
Way back in the 1970s and early 1980s, my wife and I ministered 427 concerts of our Christian testimonies, and my own, original Christian songs, to groups in 26 states, all over the country.
Since then, I’ve done many more of those concerts.
Over the past several decades, I’ve been privileged to serve several different churches and ministries, in several different states, as a church board member, as a worship team member or leader, and as a ministerial and/or ministry confidant and advisor.
I’ve also served on the Leadership Team, on the worship team, and as a full-time volunteer, at a church that was founded with the stated purpose of reaching homeless people for Christ, six days each week.
Through those many different opportunities, as well as through many years of “street” experience, I learned a lot about people, and a lot about ministry.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen the same sad progression play out, in several Christian organizations:
Someone starts a ministry, with the sincere mission to reach people for Christ, by helping them with their earthly and spiritual needs.
But, over time, the ministry slowly develops a lack of spiritual unity among its leaders, or it loses its spiritual focus in some other way.
Maybe the ministry’s leaders aren’t trained for their chosen work, or they’re otherwise unprepared for what turns out to be an ever-expanding burden of physical needs that their financial supporters expect their ministry to meet.
Or maybe, swamped with responsibilities, they naively turn over the daily operation of the ministry to untrained, inexperienced volunteer workers, some of whom may not even profess to be Christians, or who profess to be Christians, but who don’t really have the heart for what evolves into a very challenging ministry.
Maybe the problem is that people often seek positions of perceived authority over others for their own ego gratification, or for other spiritually destructive, self-serving reasons.
As a result, over time, the ministry’s mission shifts, to become all about meeting people’s earthly needs.
And, the more that it does that, the more accolades and financial support it receives, from local media and secular organizations.
The ministry — originally founded with the sincere purpose of bringing people to true repentance of their sins, and eternal salvation in Christ — loses its ministerial focus, and becomes nothing more than a secular social agency, giving lots of stuff to lots of people, without any hint of the organization’s original Christian mission.
Then, the organization itself begins to suffer from constant emotional and spiritual strife, upheaval, and conflict, as it increasingly fails to reach people for Christ.
Many years ago, I worked for such an organization. It had been started, decades ago, as a ministry.
But, over time, its purpose had decayed to the point where its current leadership wanted to change its name, to assure its clients that it no longer had anything to do with ministry.
And yet, many of us — often in a state of blissful ignorance — give our money and/or time to such organizations, blindly fooling ourselves into thinking that we’re helping to spread the gospel of Christ.
On at least two different occasions, I’ve heard a homeless person shout at a ministry’s beleaguered volunteer food servers, “Give me my #@&%! food!”
Once, after several volunteer workers spent a good part of a day, cooking and preparing a sumptuous hot meal of donated food, and then handing it out for free that evening, a homeless man took one bite, loudly announced, “this is @&%$# #&%$!,” and immediately threw his entire plateful of food into a nearby trash can.
Another time, at a church for homeless people, I watched, as a professional tried to convince anyone in a whole roomful of homeless people, to attend her free resume-building/interviewing session, which was about to start in an adjoining room, but which didn’t have any attendees at all.
The very public response from one man, hurt her deeply, but was very educational, yet very disappointing, to me.
Sitting in the middle of a group of TV watchers, he loudly laughed, and then laughingly shouted at her, and to everyone else in the room,
“A JOB?!! Lady, no one here wants a JOB!”
The whole room shook in peals of everyone’s raucous laughter, as the woman who had offered to help them, quietly slunk away.
All of those incidents happened without any subsequent correction from any staff member, and without any consequences to the person who had done them.
I slowly came to the surprising, sad realization that some of the people who I had thought that I had ministered to in the past, had actually been “playing the system,” to get every free thing that anyone was willing to give them — clothing, food, money, bicycles, bus passes, toiletries, laundry service, showers, car rides, and anything else that they could get, from every agency and ministry that they had been able to manipulate — as well as from well-meaning people like me.
And, with good, but naive, intentions, I had allowed many of them to use me, and to divert God’s precious resources to their own selfish purposes.
I suddenly recalled and recognized several times in the past that “a user” had lied to me, to try to get me to cross the line between helping them and enabling them.
For me, it’s been well over a year, thinking and praying about this whole subject, but I still struggle with it, trying to figure out how much of what I’m feeling and writing, came from me unexpectedly turning into a more-cynical person after I had my stroke — and how much of it came out of true discernment from God’s Holy Spirit.
I currently lean toward thinking that it’s mostly the latter, but I don’t want to trust my stroke-addled brain to make that vital decision, without feedback and good advice from thoughtful, prayerful Christians.
In the meantime, I still love people, and I love to minister to people who really need and want help.
But, as you’ve probably figured out by now, my goal is not to just give them lots of stuff.
Ultimately, I want to help them come to a vibrant, life-changing relationship with Christ.
After all is said and done, Christ is the only real solution to all of their needs — both in this world AND in the next.
People who care about them — and who they know and trust — have to tell them the truth.
So, I still minister (https://www.OneCandleMinistries.com) to homeless people, but now, I try to focus my dwindling time, modest efforts, and meager resources, on what the Lord Himself called, those who have ears to hear — especially if they are mentally, physically, or economically disadvantaged, victims of violence, single parents, survivors of trauma, the elderly, or children.
Whether or not they’re homeless.
Thank you for reading this.
What do you think?
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