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Beyond Labels: Homeless

One of the most difficult funerals that I’ve participated in was a funeral of a distant relative of mine. His name was Robert. Robert’s early life was full of promise and hope.  He was a bright young man and was within a semester or two of finishing college at Old Dominion University, but sadly Robert suffered from the debilitating disease of alcoholism. He battled that disease his entire life and it ended up wrecking his life.
Robert tried on many occasions to get help and, for whatever reason, the help seldom worked for any length of time. Robert lost several jobs and eventually he lost his home.  His family tried on numerous occasions to get him the help he needed.  His aunt gave him a car so that he could get to work. Robert’s siblings all allowed him to live with them at various points in his life. As you can imagine, having a homeless alcoholic living in your home can place a strain on even the best of relationships.In the end Robert ended up living in the car he was given. Robert was 53 years old when he lost his battle to alcoholism.

Robert was a person of faith, but he didn’t have a pastor so his family reached out to me to ask me to do the service. We gathered on a cold October day and had a graveside service for him.There were 15 or 20 people in attendance. Funerals like this are difficult to lead. I didn’t know Robert. He was a distant relative and I’d only heard his name through other family members. What I learned about Robert taught me some things about homelessness. At his service I confessed to the sin of labeling another human being. There were times in my life where I’ve looked at homeless people and labeled them “Homeless.” Getting to know Robert’s story helped me to see beyond the “Homeless” label and I learned that Robert was a wonderful, compassionate man who had a heart for other people. Even though he was homeless and slept in a car, he would often allow other people to share the car with him on cold nights so they would have a place to sleep. I learned he was a prolific writer. In a day and age where texts rule the day Robert wrote letters and he faithfully wrote in a journal every day. There was a richness and depth to him. Yes, Robert was a homeless alcoholic, but he was much much more than that and at the funeral we celebrated the goodness and compassion that was Robert. We celebrated that he was a beloved child of God! I found myself wishing that I’d taken the time to know him.

I tell you Robert’s story for this reason: On June 3 – 10 we’re hosting Caritas. Caritas  is an Acronym for “Congregations Around Richmond To Assure Shelter.” We will host 33 ladies who are currently without a home. Caritas not only offers them a safe night’s sleep, they also provide them with life skills they’ll need to find work and they even help them overcome addiction. Our role is to extend the love and grace of Christ to these ladies while they are with us. We’ll have an opportunity to bless them by cooking for them and eating with them, providing entertainment, and washing their clothes. There are many ways in which we can serve them, but perhaps the most helpful thing we can do for them is to sit down with them and learn their names, let them tell you their story and then perhaps you can pray with them and for them.

I want to take you back to Robert’s funeral for a moment. As I said, I really struggled with what to say and I prayed and asked the Lord for the right words and what the Lord impressed upon me was to make sure I thanked anyone who had a part in taking care of Robert. I offered these words:

“If you are one of these people who has in any way tried to help Robert, no matter how small or how large, on behalf of Christ I want to say thank you. You poured into him grace and goodness and mercy and blessings that you could never know. I know that there were probably times in your trying to help Robert that you wanted to pull your hair out, or wondered if it did any good.I would remind us that we are not responsible for the result, as Christ followers we are called to care, to love, and to bless, but the results and the outcome are in God’s hands.

For Caritas Week, let us pour grace and goodness and blessings into these ladies. Let’s care for them and love them as though we were doing this for Christ Himself, for the Bible affirms this is true (See Matthew 25). The Lord not only encourages this, but I believe God is thankful for us when we offer ourselves in service to another. If you’d like to be the “Hands and Feet” of Christ and serve these ladies during Caritas Week, then please call Frances Morris at 794-6130 and she can assist you. May God bless the ladies of Caritas and may God bless Bethel Baptist Church as we serve others in HIS name. Amen.

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