How It Started
It started with a simple homeless outreach event in New Brunswick this past September. I’ve participated in similar outreach events before then, and was always glad that we were able to pray for the people in need, but felt there was still more we could do for the people we met on a practical level. Like many other convictions, this was so easily said and never followed up on. But then there was Robin. On the day we met, God gave me a special conviction to finally take a risk and actually take action to help others. Robin was a mother of three who was on the streets even though she had a commercial driver's license. She just needed a chance to get back on her feet.
After meeting her, I shared her story and background with some people in our church and asked if anyone wanted to contribute towards her to help give her that chance. God provided very generously during the next two weeks and we were able to do the following:
Buy her shoes and a jacket to keep her warm
Provide lodging for one week at a local motel
Treat her out for meals throughout the week
Donate an iPhone so she can start registering as an Uber/Lyft driver
Provide lodging for a second week at the motel from a last minute donation
Buy a used car for her so she can get around, use it for Uber, and have a last resort place to sleep
How it Changed Me
It was definitely a learning experience for me. There truly is power in prayer especially when God’s people gather. Matthew 18:20 states, “For where two or three gather, there I am with them.” We have a very generous God who provided everything we asked for Robin and more. I felt close to God in the moments when we were rallying together, praying, and giving for her. I also learned how you can want something so badly for others, but it’s not up to us to change their circumstances.
After this two week period where we tried to so hard to change Robin’s life, she left me a voicemail accusing me of stealing from her and asked us not to call her again. I haven’t heard from her since. Church members have run into her since then and I’ve heard she sold both her iPhone and car for a fraction of their value and is now back on the same street corner where we first met. I can’t lie. I was disappointed and frustrated to hear that for her. She sold her phone and car for some quick cash which was temporary, when she was so close to getting a new job and having a stable income…a long term solution to her poverty.
At the end of the day, from a worldly perspective, this may be considered a complete failure. I thought we found a permanent fix for Robin, but I eventually realized that even if her physical world was transformed, from an eternal perspective, a life without Jesus is still desperately empty. As disappointed as I was to hear that Robin was back on the streets, I couldn’t help but see just how much like her I am. God shed light on how He must see me: always settling for the temporary idols and distractions of this world, while ignoring the greater, eternal rewards in heaven being offered to me. That must be frustrating to watch.
Even though I didn’t get the storybook ending for Robin that I wanted, I wouldn’t take anything back. If I had ten similar opportunities to help someone in her situation I would take all ten chances again, despite potentially getting burned in each one. It was so fitting because at church the Sunday before I received Robin’s voicemail, accusing me of stealing from her, the pastor preached about how it’s okay to be stabbed and betrayed a little and how, in those moments, we become a little bit more like Jesus. It's such a weird concept, that it’s OK to be betrayed sometimes, but God knew that was exactly what I needed to hear. My challenge and encouragement to everyone is that we must continue to pursue our convictions, even when we feel snubbed or underappreciated, because we can handle it. If we can move on and go forward with even more enthusiasm and an even bigger heart in our next convictions, I think God would be pleased.
It’s so easy to get distracted by my own life and selfish desires, but I’ll continue to go on outreach events and keep my eyes and heart open to people who are in need. Also, I need to keep in mind that people around me need constant encouragement and some just need an invitation to join in on the adventure and walk through the doors that God opens for us. If I’m inspired with a true conviction from God, this experience showed me that it needs to be shared with others in our community so we can pray together, use our strengths to serve, and keep each other accountable. I think my priority has started to slowly shift from focusing almost purely on people’s external needs to addressing their spiritual needs. But this does not give us an excuse to keep idle while our neighbors are in need. James 2:16-17 states, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” I’m encouraged to see my church and other Grace In Motion members stepping up to serve our local community and I pray we continue to take action on our convictions.
If you’re interested in participating in Homeless Outreach going forward, you can sign up here. Or you can email Sam Hong, Cat Oh, or Chris Yi.