Shelter the homeless. Then what?

January 8th, 2015

As arctic air blasts American cities from St. Paul, Minnesota to Nashville, Tennessee this week, churches across the nation have opened their doors to people unfortunate enough to live most of their lives on the streets. These temporary shelters will protect the physical well-being of the least fortunate among us during the cold snap, but they also offer an opportunity for Christians to practice discipleship and show mercy. Of course, whether it is warm or cold outdoors, the poor remain with us. How do we, as members of the churches opening their doors, dwell with them?

Beyond the physical necessities of food and shelter, it can be difficult to imagine what an individual or community might do to be with the poor in our midst. With that in mind, here are some ideas:

- Share Holy Communion
- Go to a restaurant and order food
- Ask if they have special skills or secrets to teach you
- Do random acts of kindness for strangers together
- Watch funny videos on YouTube
- Hug if you both want to hug
- Ask what they want to do
- Sit and talk about rights
- Sit and talk economics
- Sit and talk theology
- Sit and talk politics
- Care for a community garden
- Start a guerrilla garden
- Do an art project
- Sing a song
- Tell stories
- Listen to music
- Watch a movie
- Watch a TV show
- Share a cigarette
- Give out sleeping bags
- Give out toothbrushes
- Give out washcloths
- Give out conditioner
- Give out toothpaste
- Give out underwear
- Give out shampoo
- Give out tampons
- Give out lotion
- Give out pads
- Give out combs
- Give out tissues
- Give out water
- Give out tarps
- Give out socks
- Give out shoes
- Give out soap
- Give out hats
- Play a game
- Play checkers
- Play chess
- People watch
- Read a book
- Shake hands
- Take a walk
- High five
- Laugh
- Smile
- Listen
- Cry

Maybe while the church is open as a shelter from the cold, it would be a good time to talk about some of these options with guests. The simple question "What do you need?" is a good place to start. The cool thing about church is you don't have to do any of this alone. You can get a whole group together and brainstorm ways you can be with the poor in your community. Once you're out there doing whatever it is you decide to do, more people will join you. And I promise the Holy Spirit will show up, too. 

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