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Ministry of Presence

This post is dedicated to Debbie Popielarczyk, who from the beginning named our work as a work of presence, thereby helping me to understand our calling at The Human Impact.

Our work is first and foremost a ministry of presence. So often, there’s nothing we can do—at least not overnight—to substantially change the realities of our brothers and sisters living outside or in shelters.

The system can move slowly, often because landlords don’t accept vouchers which means we have too few affordable housing units. Also, people have to choose to participate in the system to get help. Other times, obstacles prevent people who are unhoused from doing what they want to do to leave their present situation.

Our work at The Human Impact includes advocacy, working with landlords, helping people navigate a system, and participating in the larger system in Dallas to support the good work being done. There is so much to be proud of here in Dallas. And even with all of the good work, some people stay stuck—in shelters, on the streets, in motels, or in subpar housing. Our work in these spaces is to keep showing up, to be with people when nothing changes, to wait with them, hope with them, and share in their suffering by listening and praying.

This work of showing up is no more clearly seen than on the days encampments are shut down. Our work on those days is to be with people – with them as they make a plan and leave their current encampment, with them as they mourn their losses by being a literal shoulder to cry on, and with them sharing in the burden by physically carrying their stuff. We aren’t there those days to rescue people or save them; we understand that we cannot do that—not on any day. We are there with them to enter in and to love in the middle of what’s difficult.

So often, like on days encampments are shut down, we are confronted by our helplessness to make things different. We wish we could snap our fingers and open lovely housing options for everyone there. We wish we could change the way housed people see those who aren’t living inside.

But in the meantime, we keep showing up. Our model is based on the life of Jesus, who was with people in the midst of their lives — good and bad, painful and joyful, shameful and celebratory. Yes, he was God, so he healed and changed peoples’ situations, but He also just showed up for them, loved them where they were, and didn’t hide from pain or shame. He washed feet and called people down out of trees. He had his feet washed with tears and spent time on fishing boats with his friends. He hugged and walked alongside, he laughed and prayed, and he taught and listened.

He was present—literally in the middle of the human experience. He even experienced our pain and our shame on the cross.

In his Name, we work—quite imperfectly. We show up. We fail and apologize and get back up again. For each other. And the same happens for us: the community of housed people is equally blessed by and ministered to by the unhoused, perhaps even more.

Those experiencing homelessness offer us a gift. They minister to us the realities of dependence – that we are not self-made. The truth is, we depend on each other and on God for our very lives and certainly for any kind of flourishing. They speak this truth with their lives, for they lean on each other in the middle of their difficulties every day. They show us what it’s like to be content needing other people, and even more, that interdependence is how it’s meant to be.

The ministry of presence shows up not based on a person’s performance and not based on a person’s ability to pull themselves up. The ministry of presence says “You are worthy because you’re human, handcrafted by a loving God, beloved. I show up for you, and you show up for me. And we are, together, blessed in this place – known, and loved, and beheld—by each other and by the eyes of Christ.”

Our culture doesn’t much value presence. Western culture, and specifically American culture, values efficiency, accomplishment, an up-and-to-the-right life. Hide your failures, hide your fears, hide your anxieties. Living this way can feel like a lot of pressure—what happens during the times I am sick, or anxious, or depressed, or grieving, or tired, or caring for little ones or an aging parent? What happens to me—and more than that—who am I when I can’t be outwardly productive in the world?

The ministry of presence pushes back the lies that you are worth what you can accomplish. That you have to burn the candle at both ends to be worthy. It respects our limitedness as human beings. It acknowledges that we are not, indeed, God.

The ministry of presence listens in tough situations. It doesn’t have to have the ‘right’ thing to say, understanding that when someone is in pain, being there is the right-est thing to do. It understands that most true, deep change comes from knowing you are beloved first. Shame is not a long-term change motivator. Presence sits with people until shame and guilt can be acknowledged so that there’s a real chance at healing and transformation.

You don’t have to work at The Human Impact to be present for someone. This ministry, this way of loving is available to all of us. We can stop to love the one person in front of us today – pause long enough to look them in the eye, or ask how they are doing, or give a hug, or share in a celebration.

Join us in this work of presence.

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