It was Friday of my mission week. That week was the first week I had ever sat with a homeless man. I took my tray and sat with him at that soup kitchen. That moment changed my life. That was Monday night. For the rest of the week, I jumped right in. During the day, we served at a drop-in for children who did not know if there was a place for them to sleep at night. There were children as young as five years old living outside at night. My heart was broken. God had ripped my heart in half with the injustice that thrived in North America. Daily, I became better friends with these children. They had so much life in them. One young boy could almost dunk a basketball and he was much shorter than my six-foot frame. We re-told Bible stories, sang worship songs, and ate meals together. I loved the life I was living that week, but it was now Friday. We were going to leave the next day.
At lunch, that Friday, our church family for the weekend hosted an outdoor picnic for the people in the neighbourhood. Picnic tables were set up in the church parking lot as the sun blazed down. Beverages in coolers full of ice and ham sandwiches were brought out from the kitchen. As with the rest of the week, we sat with our friends on the street. We did not serve them. That sets up a power play. If you serve someone, you are telling him/her you are higher up and have power. If you sit with someone, you are declaring that you are his/her friend. In sitting together, you can serve one another. The impoverished can serve the rich and the rich can serve the poor. We are one. I sat with three people I recognized from the week. We shared a few laughs about pro football teams. We talked about the church.
“They really love this community – do meals like this quite regularly…and they even sit with us!”
“Not every church does that,” another chimed in.
We finished up the meal, chatted a bit longer, and they got up to leave. Handshakes and hugs followed.
“I’ll be praying for you brother as you go home.” Thomas said as he walked away.
Pastor Steve was standing and watching. He and I had had a few talks during the week about why they do what they do. After my three friends left, I walked over to him.
“You see those three much?” I enquired.
“Two of them yes. Thomas disappears every now and then…” Steve started.
“He gets too close to us. It reminds him of too much of his past and he just disappears. Drugs sometimes. Another city sometimes. He’s back right now, and I think he likes you.”
I smiled and started to drift into reflection. I wanted this life so badly. I wanted to know Thomas, each of those five year olds, my friend with whom I studied Romans in the soup kitchen. God had broken my heart and wasn’t putting it back together. I wanted this life. Steve could sense something in my silence.
“So,” He caught my eyes. “How are you gonna bring this home?” Steve went on to say none of this mission week really mattered if it was just a week. If it just stayed a nice memory, it would remain like a fun holiday at best. But, if I took some of it home, to live out, maybe this would allow God to change me forever.
I did take it home. Within five months, I had to quit my job – I no longer fit. My heart wasn’t in it anymore. I began working on the streets. It is something I do to this day. I am a pastor of a small church in the downtown area of a North American city. My friends are people who live under bridges, in tents, and in houses with four car garages. I have learned a little about love along the way, a little about poverty and a lot about Jesus.
I liked the mission experience so much that I made it my life. My prayer is one day we will no longer call it a mission trip. We will just call it life.