I spent last week in Knoxville, Tennessee with some pretty incredible teenagers and adults as part of WOW Urban Ministry. Each day, groups of teenagers and adults traveled to various places in Knoxville to do all sorts of service work.
One of my favorite activities of the week was when we had the opportunity to host a movie at the church where we were staying for clients of the Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC). I also had the opportunity to visit folks at the VMC earlier in the week, but there was something different about inviting them in to “our space.”
Most of the VMC clients are “homeless” even though they have shelter at night. For whatever reason, they’ve found themselves out on the street and VMC offers them assistance while they take the tough steps necessary to get back on their feet again. As people came in for the movie (perhaps more interested in the air conditioning and popcorn than the movie itself), I introduced myself and made small talk. That afternoon, I met Chris, Tony, and Paula.
Chris was a quiet guy … didn’t have much to say, but when I told him my name and asked his, he said “Chris, thank you.” Maybe for the first time in a very long time someone had noticed he was alive. That he had a name.
Tony and Paula both shared stories of how they got to where they are. I didn’t ask – those are the kinds of questions that just feel too personal. As they freely shared their stories with me, I felt honored that they would let me into their lives that way. I cherished my time talking with them and was a little sad when the movie started playing!
As the movie played, I couldn’t help but think about their stories. Neither of them chose to be out on the street – at least not at first. Bad things happened in their lives. They lost their jobs. A spouse left them. They lost their house. They had no family or close friends to help when times got tough. Unfortunate circumstances caused them to have no place to call home.
Have you ever lost your job? Lost your house? Used up all your savings?
As I took on the Spent Challenge yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of Chris, Tony, Paula, and all those people who find themselves on the street. I gave up. I played the game 5 times … and only once did I made it through the month with a tiny bit of money left over.
But – my rent was due the very next day …
I couldn’t help but think that if that was the life I had to live, I might give up in real life too. The constant stress and struggle. Never knowing what would hit next to put me on the streets again. It definitely made me look at the problem of poverty and homelessness in America like I never have before.
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