One day over Christmas break my Bible study leader Gillian texted in our group text asking if anyone wanted to hang out with the homeless the next day. I agreed partly because I had no plans and partly because I was intrigued by the idea just "hanging out" with homeless people. In the past, I've done things like making care packages or grocery shopping for those in need but I had never had a direct, personal interaction with them. I didn't anticipate the lasting effect Gillian's invitation would have on my life.
In just a few steps, we'd gone from Deep Ellum to one of the most astonishing places of living I'd ever seen. There were hundreds of tents under a bridge, hence the name Tent City, where hundreds of people called home.
Besides the sheer magnitude of people there, it was shocking to see how close this place was to where I lived. There's no need to fly across the world to witness poverty. One of my first thoughts arriving there was "how have I not heard about this?" and later I was told Tent City represented only a fraction of the homeless in Dallas. Wow.
So it was really cold when we arrived at Tent City, but we brought hot coffee and danishes to temporarily thaw the side-effects of being homeless. To be honest, I was so nervous at first, like what was I supposed to say or do? I was immediately greeted by a gracious face named Tiffany. After thanking us for the breakfast, she told us about how her recent situation hasn't been good but that she is so glad that God is going to help her.
The hope Tiffany possessed despite her misfortune was one we should all aim to have. There was a sense of community and family amongst the people there that knew no limits. I think it's very easy sometimes to have fair-weathered friends but the people in Tent City were the best of friends and would be there for one another no matter the circumstances.
My second visit was a different experience. We walked a short distance in the other direction towards Austin Street Shelter. Lots of people were lined up, hoping to get a warm place to sleep that night but sadly some were turned away. One of those turned away was LaToya. We saw her standing on a nearby sidewalk with her trashbag full of all her posessions. Imagine putting everything you own into a bag that size ... Elisabeth talked to LaToya with graceful forwardness and, as the conversation progressed, pain-ridden tears rolled down her face.
She explained to us how she was done with the damaging way she used to live and was trying to do the right thing. She'd escaped toxic living situations but, unfortunately, that meant she was forced to fend for herself, which includes having to sleep as a single woman on the street sometimes.
We offered to give her a ride to The Bridge, another homeless shelter out of walking distance, while Gillian and Maddie went to get her a warm meal. In the car, LaToya explained to us how she hasn't been able to see her daughter in a long time -- and that she doesn't want to until she gets her life back on track. This is such a mature and thoughtful mindset that will surely pay off in the end. Going along with this, she expressed genuine trust and faith in the Lord's plan for her. Behind her hurting was a joy (like when she saw Elisabeth's baby John) that could come from none other than God. She was a living example of 1 Peter 5:10 "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."
Receiving this new perspective -- seeing the way people who literally do not have a roof over their heads view the world in such a faithful manner -- was truly a gift from God. When things go wrong in my life, even insignificant things like test grades or friend drama, I always feel like it's the end of the world. Yet all of the homeless people I've met so far look forward to seeing the way God's beneficial plan will work out for them despite their adversity. This year I've had a lot of trouble "seeing God," if that makes sense, like recognizing his presence through everyday life, but I can feel my doubt and confusion lift off of me because the people I have met.