Facing the Boredom of Poverty
As I am driving to the Monday Outreach I participate in each week in Canton I’m becoming more aware of the familiar faces and families congregating along the street. I see a familiar young mom on the side of the road by her stroller and she’s wearing that “I’m so very bored” look on her face. The day workers who have not been hired for the day are leaning against buildings and not really talking and they have a fairly fearsome scowl on their faces. Perhaps they’ve simply run out of things to say to each other by 11:30 in the morning. That scowl used to intimidate me.
I feel for these people, many of which I call friends. They are bored and there’s nothing more boring than not having cash. You can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything, you can’t afford to see movies or go out to eat. You can’t turn on the television for a hundred different reasons. You can’t call someone on the phone because you can’t afford the minutes.
As it turns out, a large part of your day is spent just sitting around being bored. Now if you are a parent you’re probably saying, “Well you could read a book, or take a free class, or go help someone with their work, or clean your room!” But the reality of being short on cash and long on time is that there’s just not much to do.
I’ve been helping at this Monday outreach for over a year and I’m just now seeing the fruit from my attempts at relationship building. I spent some time talking to a gentleman named Juan. Juan has been to a few Forever Fed outreaches and on the days he’s not working he comes to the Monday outreach as well. He’s met each member of my family and asked after each one today. Juan makes a point of asking what their names are and he’s really attempting to remember them. He’s curious about my Sons who attend College and asked if my Husband was working today and about what type job he does.
It wasn’t long ago that Juan was living in the woods behind a store. Today he has a “place to live” and he even has a dog too! Juan says his dog helps him stay happy because it’s very lonely living on your own with nothing to do. Today Juan smiled as he proudly pointed out a woman nearby and told me, “That lady right there, she’s my neighbor!” Juan is proud of his accomplishments, this is a good thing. In the back of my mind I’m wondering if Juan will be able to pay the rent on his place when the work thins out this winter, I hope he’ll not have to sleep outside again. There were several weeks in January and February that we served over 150-200 men on Mondays in the cold harsh weather who lacked work and many were sleeping outside.
So it’s time for me to be dreadfully honest with you. While I am now very comfortable working with homeless and/or needy people from different cultures there was a time when I felt like a square peg in a round hole. I used to be one of those people who drove through the crowds of people on the street with one eye on the people and the other on the windows and door locks of my car. I was so far outside my comfort zone always jumped into doing tasks that needed to be done and rarely greeted the individuals I served. Over time I’ve learned how to greet people properly and discovered the importance of treating people with dignity. I learned that a smile is a universal language.
Today as I drive into the same neighborhoods I’m smiling and waving at familiar faces and those people are smiling and waving back at me. I see my own growth as a huge accomplishment and it’s the end product of taking time out of my busy life and deliberately attempting to get to know some of God’s precious children. Today I’m just like Juan and I’m proudly waving at my new found neighbors I’ve discovered in Canton.
The reality is these folks are not leaning up against buildings and plotting their next “break in” or government overthrow or child snatching event. The real story is that for the most part, they’re good people just waiting for the chance to be hired for a job and they’re hanging out together because their bored.
The next time you pass a group of guys hanging out in a questionable neighborhood and you go to lock your doors and roll up your windows, remember this. They are God’s children every bit as much as you are and they’re simply trying to make a way in this world. We are all one in spirit with different fleshy coats on the outside. I pray that we’ll all learn to look upon others not with looks of disdain or fear but with the eyes of Jesus filled with love and hope.
Forever Fed is so much more than a ministry that provides meals to needy people. We set the stage for ignorant people like me to sit down and mingle with folks they would not normally approach. We serve Whites, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and everything in between. Our events are a chance for those who are experiencing hardships to get out and do something constructive with their families and friends. We are bringing Church congregations together in service that would normally not even talk to each other, and we are all learning what common grounds we share rather than focusing on our differences.
Come out and join us today at Liberty Hill Church’s campus on 141 Railroad Street in Canton and take a meal with your neighbors at a table set with love and dignity. We hope to see you there!