By Pamela Schuffert presenting investigative journalism from a Biblical Christian perspective-
We are approaching a busy time of the year, with the holiday season almost upon us. All across America, malls are already beginning their Christmas store decorations and playing carols heralding the birth of the Savior of the World. I have personally observed people beginning their holiday shopping already, with children telling parents what they want for Christmas as they push shopping carts down seemingly endless WALMART toy aisles.
Yet America remains in recession. Many people have lost their jobs and sources of income. Elderly and other endangered groups are suffering from government cutbacks. Homes are in foreclosure all across this nation And the number of America's homeless are gradually increasing as well.
We frequently see the homeless at the intersections holding scruffy cardboard signs with messages like, "Will work for food." Many can be recognized by their unkempt appearance coupled with well-worn backpacks, often unshaven faces, as they seek shelter during the day after being put out of the homeless shelters they just spent the night in, until it is time to return later that evening for a meal and a bed.
Their stories are many diverse as to why they are homeless, but all are basically filled with sorrow and tragedy.
How do we respond to such people when we see them? Some Americans respond to such people holding signs with internal contempt for these homeless. Many begin to reason that the person must somehow be a "bad person" undoubtedly on drugs or alcohol to be homeless. How often the homeless are stereotyped negatively in many minds of Americans.
But have we forgotten that Jesus the Savior of the world was also homeless for much of His life on earth? When sent forth by God at His appointed time, to begin His earthly ministry in earnest, He forsook family and home and it's comforts, to share the Good News with His people throughout His nation. He said of Himself that "...foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
Jesus found Himself not only at the mercy of His father in heaven, but also dependent upon his followers and people He encountered for a place to spend the night or a table to eat at. In fact, the donkey He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem was not His own, the Upper Room where He celebrated His Last Supper with His disciples was not His own, and even the tomb He was buried in was not His own!
God used the common everyday people who surrounded Him in His ministry, to supply everything He needed, including to fulfill Bible prophecy.
There are deep implications for all of us in His words.
He declared that judgment would come to someday to ALL people based on how they responded to the crises and needs of His people. He stated:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ "
"Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’"
" Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
These are sobering words for all of us at this time of the year. And beware of judging and stereotyping these homeless we see around us in America.
For I am one of those homeless, even as Jesus was, for righteousness sake.
I understand perfectly how the homeless feel, especially at this time of the year. Envision the penniless child with his nose pressed to a frosty pan of glass in front of a bakery or toystore brightly decorated at this time of the year. Everything inside looks so appealing, so warm and wonderful and inviting. But such joys are only for those who have the money to purchase them. Those with little or nothing are left on the outside, to gaze sadly at the things that bring comfort and joy at this time of the year, as they hungrily eye everything within but realize that such luxuries are beyond their reach.
I understand how it feels, to be living in my car at this time of the year, parked in some nameless truck stop or WALMART parking lot, surrounded with whirling snow and bitter cold and often blizzards in the colder states where I have performed my journalism and Christian outreach while living on the road.
Driving through various neighborhoods at times, I could gaze through windows at warm homey scenes, with beautiful decorations within and without. I could see families gathered in the living rooms around presents and loved ones, or sitting at well spread tables covered with everything one could wish to grace a table for holiday dinners. And at such times, a deep sense of sadness would overtake me. It hurts to be homeless at this special time of the year.
For I too had once known what it means to have a warm and comfortable home, to be able to entertain others and enjoy comforts at holiday seasons, and to even invite those less fortunate into our home for a warm meal and prayer and encouragement.
But in 2001, I found myself homeless since the time of my mother's terrible accident in which she fell and almost severed her leg, forcing her to sell our jointly own home (truck and RV used for ministry nationwide) to cover her medical expenses. I lost everything, and found myself through no fault of my own instantly homeless and with no other resources to fall back on. But in the midst of the pain and sorrow I endured with that loss, I knew my ministry had to continue. It was too important to stop my reporting.
Christian friends rallied together for me, and donated an old used van, which I transformed and used as both a home on the road and a means of continuing in my ministry. Some of my most important reports to my fellow Americans were composed while living in that old van, based on my investigative research that took me all over this country.
I often endured bitter winters in states such as Montana and Wyoming, in order to continue my research on the detention camps and prisoner boxcars so prevalent in that region. At times the winter temperatures dipped to minus 30 degrees F with wind chills of minus 70 F. It was too costly to keep my engine running all night to provide heat. And so I learned the fine art of TRUE SURVIVAL in frequently life-threatening circumstances.
And even as Jesus, I too was at the mercy of the Christians and people around me, reliant on readers or radio listeners for every gallon of gas, every bite of food, and every practical aspect such a ministry involved. This provided a window of opportunity to observe first-hand how Christians treat the homeless in our nation, for I found myself one of them. Our compassion for others often grows the best, when we suffer as they suffer.
While many encounters were positive, many encounters also saddened me, including in churches across this nation. I have noted how the words of Jesus are sadly proving true in our generation. "And because of iniquity increasing, the love of many will grow cold."
I encourage you, my fellow Christians, to never allow YOUR love to grow cold, neither towards God nor towards others you meet in your daily life. Remember that LOVE is foundational to the entire Gospel! "For God so LOVED THE WORLD that He GAVE His only begotten Son...." (John 3:16)
The end result of God's love, is that HE GAVE...of His finest and His best to the world and to all of us , Jesus Christ!
And Jesus has commanded us, His followers, to ALSO love, even as HE loved us.
Please do not allow your love to grow cold, especially at this time of the year when many are suffering in various ways across America, and many are homeless as well. The mercy you show now, is the mercy you shall also reap someday from a righteous God. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, " declared Jesus Christ.
You to may find yourself homeless, as many tragic events come to this nation. Don't think it could ever happen to you? Neither did I. And in spite of serving God for forty years now, and walking in integrity, and laying down my life continually for His call, I remain homeless to this very day. Friends allow me to stay in a tiny one room cabin here in Montreat. They were hoping my job would enable me to finally obtain necessary funds to invest in a modest used trailer, camper or RV.
But now my job is finished: I was fired for my Christian witness to my sick and dying patients. And the needs of my handicapped brother in a wheelchair, forced to leave his previous nursing home and move in with me, takes whatever little funds I have left. Yet I praise God and find the grace to continue in my ministry and my daily walk with Jesus Christ. And you can too, no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in...even homeless.
I am sharing from my own personal experiences simply to create understanding in your heart, to realize there are many reasons why people are destitute or homeless in America today. I encourage you to open your heart and hands to those who are suffering in our nation and elsewhere, and allow God to use you in a marvelous way to lift up those going through crisis and tragedy and heartache. This is how each one of us can shed the light of God's love through Jesus Christ abroad in a dark world filled with suffering and tragedy.
I never allow my poverty or circumstances to keep me from loving, giving of what I have to share with others. Somehow I always find the grace to minister a warm meal, an extra pair of warm socks, gloves or even a coat to the homeless I encounter everywhere.
And God's grace and mercy ensures that I shall never run out of LOVE TO SHARE or something to give. And neither, my friend, shall you as you seek to obey His word and to LOVE. God's supply of love and mercy and compassion can never end!
Remember the poor and the homeless at this time of the year, and at all other times as well. You could be among them someday!
P.O. Box 279,
Montreat, NC 28757