Andrew was raised a Christian. His family loved God, and his church was rooted in the gospel. As Andrew got older, he became frustrated that no one had ever told him the “Christian thing” to do when he encountered a panhandler on the street. He wanted to show Christ’s love to the homeless and he wanted to help, but he didn’t know how. Love Thy Neighborhood offers a homelessness track where he hoped to learn the right way to approach and interact with the homeless. But what happens when we encounter circumstances where we don’t know what to do, and the people we thought could help us are just as confused?
Andrew started his internship hoping to find an easy answer to these pressing questions: “What if the homeless use the money I give them use it to buy drugs? What if I’m just feeding their addiction? Am I hurting them more?” He was asking “How do I know what to do? No one has shown me the right way.” He decided to serve at to Re:Center Ministries, a ministry that offers day shelters, lockers, mailboxes, and drug and alcohol recovery programs to the homeless people in Louisville, and he had to interact with homeless people every day.
LTN leaders empathized with him, and affirmed his choice to serve at the rescue mission. It’s hard and awkward, but we’ve seen the relationships that come out of this year of service become some of the most life-changing and fulfilling relationships to date. So he carried on, hoping that by the end of his eleven months in the program, he would have all the answers; or at least some general guidelines to guide his interactions.
About a month in, Andrew met J. J is a homeless man addicted to heroin. Not someone Andrew would typically spend time with, but this year was a year of growth. J’s addiction and subsequent homelessness was a result of misfortune out of his control. The lines that Andrew had hoped to draw, and the rules he wanted to follow, began to blur even more.
He knew he loved J, J was his friend who desperately needed help. J was in his situation because of circumstances both within his control and without, but what J needed wasn’t money to buy more drugs. J needed to know he was loved and cared for despite his addiction, he needed relief from the excruciating pain that he was in, both physical and spiritual. But J also needed something to eat and somewhere warm and safe to sleep.
Andrew was confused, because he began LTN looking for answers and what he got instead was a relationship. It was a hard, messy, strange relationship, but even though he was often discouraged, he showed up and continued to build a friendship based on love and compassion. And after eleven months, Andrew admits that he still doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t have the formula that he was hoping LTN would give him. But he has realized that the simple commandment to “love thy neighbor” is hard and messy, and it’s better than a formula.
And after eleven months, Andrew admits that he still doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t have the formula that he was hoping LTN would give him, but he has realized that the simple commandment to “love thy neighbor” is hard and messy, and it’s better than a formula.
That messiness is where God meets us. He comes down into the complicated, awkward interactions with people who are wildly different and teaches us to trust Him. When our own judgement and knowledge fail us and when we encounter misfortune beyond our control we must trust God. Andrew learned to listen and to trust God as he waded into the depths of a very broken world that rarely, if ever, gives us the answers we want.
Being approached for money is hard, there’s never an easy solution or a perfect answer. But God has grace with us as we muddle through. If we as Christians let him, he will teach us how to build relationships instead of equations. But if we are too afraid of not having a perfect plan or the right answers, we will be frozen. We will shut out the Lord’s voice, and we will focus on trusting our own judgement. We need to approach the world with love and compassion, trusting God to show us the way.
Holly Ahrens is from Denver, Colorado and is an intern at Love Thy Neighborhood. She is a graduate of Grove City College with a degree in English language and literature.