One of the best parts of working at a Mission (i.e., homeless shelter) is the reactions that I get from people when I answer their questions of what I do and where I work.
Some of the time I get a knowing nod accompanied by an “oh daaaang” (or something along those lines) that makes me feel like I’m crazy. Like, they wouldn’t have expected me to give any other answer or they’re amazed that I’ve lived to tell stories. Those are usually the people who try to get a better idea of what I do by asking me to tell them about things or people that I’ve encountered.
So I tell them about the woman who wanted to sleep under our Christmas tree, or the women who lunged at me (3 in one week!). Recently, someone called me from the front desk to tell me that “a woman with hair like a lion” was looking for me. It turned out to be the same woman who had tried to get me to help her with her belt and GIANT pants the week before…that’s an entirely different story, however. There’s also the person who called our office and told my coworker that they’d found a dog that they were sure belonged to us because it was “acting homeless.” We’re still not really sure what they meant by that. But anyway, I try to always keep at least one good story in my repertoire just to be prepared for this response.
There are also people who give me this face that lets me know they’re thinking that I must be a really good person. Let me assure you that I am not. I mean, I do what I can, but there are a lot of days that I find myself wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into. I enjoy talking with these people because they’re the ones who want to hear the encouraging stories, the stories of people whose lives have been changed.
There’s the woman who decided to follow Jesus after sitting through a few nights of chapel, or the countless people who come here because they’ve taken the first step towards breaking the addictions that are controlling their lives. These are the people who also ask about my kids (a topic that I could talk about forever if given the chance), so I tell them about the 6-week-old baby that I got to hold while his mom unpacked their belongings or the kids who follow me in single-file lines across the parking lot, making me feel like the Pied Piper. I love this response because they are eager to hear about how Jesus is the source of grace and patience and without him I’d never make it through my work week.
The third most common response is the blank stare. People find out I work at a Mission and they have no idea what to ask about or what to say because it’s completely out of the realm of their thinking. I think this is the hardest reaction for me to respond to, because I always assume that everyone wants to do what I do. I’ve been assured that’s not true, but I’m still skeptical. I get to look into the faces of so many different kinds of people, knowing that the Lord created all of them for a very specific purpose. And then I get to watch as they begin to realize that truth, and discover what their purpose is.
To the people who stare blankly, I tell stories of normalcy, in an attempt to get them to a place where they fear less and understand more. I talk about how conversations with people at the Mission are enriching experiences, and that I walk away from them having learned so much more about the world around me (granted, the things I learn aren’t always things I ever thought I needed to know…). I tell them things like, we provided shelter to over 150 people in July (true story) or no, I don’t know every person who stands on the side of the road with a cardboard sign (I get asked this often, and am still surprised by the question every time).
The thing is though, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me how people respond. Because I get to give every person I talk to–about the Mission and the people here–a small glimpse of a part of their world that they may not think about very often. And I want them to think about it, because these people that are so often overlooked are important to me! But more so than that, they’re important to Jesus.