August 3, 2011

theNorthGate:Dayton Street Ministries

Dayton, Ohio

Dayton Street Ministries:
I was more than a little nervous about what to expect when it came to volunteering to feed the homeless. I was scared of the things I’d see, the people I’d meet, and most of all being separated from the people I knew and felt safe with; because the only way I’d ever known a homeless person was through a television screen. I didn’t know what to expect, how to react, or even how to communicate with someone whose life was so completely different from my own. But what I did experience was something I’ll not soon forget.
When I’d first heard of the ministry I pictured the Hollywood version of feeding the homeless: a buffet counter where we prepared meals for them to pick up at the end…but this ministry was nothing like that. I found out we would be splitting up into several groups to hike around the city with a backpack full of water and clothes, and paper bags of food in our hands. We were abandoning the safety of our nets and entering into their world.

My particular group decided to visit a homeless camp under the train tracks first. Upon entering into the camp I was amazed at what I saw: tents, broken glass, and books lying on almost every touchable surface. Each person who lived there had their own space to do with what they pleased and a common area with a fire pit and a tattered couch covered in a thin sheet to hide its many holes. Each tent had its own area filled with random objects belonging to the owners; small piles of worn out clothing and shoes, each seeming to have an invisible barrier to protect it from the other piles around it. I was astonished when I overheard a story of a father giving his daughter a tent to set up in the camp but wouldn’t offer her a place in his home. I'm blessed with a family that makes such a thing seem unreal to me.

There was only a single person in the camp while we were there; a seemingly normal guy, Keith. Danny, our group leader, had shared Keith’s story with us: he was an alcoholic who, when drinking, flew into an unstoppable rage that had made him ultimately give up on trying to make things good in his life. When we offered Keith a corndog he accepted graciously along with a prayer. But when we told him we would have to wait to give him a shirt, because we currently didn’t have one in his size, you could see the disappointment in his eyes, and hear it behind his words when he offered simply, “That’s okay.”
Leaving the camp I was surprised to realize that Hollywood had done nothing but dramatize the look and actions of these people who had fallen on such hard times. Seeing Keith on any street I wouldn’t have thought twice about the situation he was in, living on the city streets and eating what was offered to him once a week by a ministry who’s vowed to make their needs known.
Continuing to walk we passed the Dragons (baseball) stadium where we saw several more people who lived in the camp. I met a guy there, Jack, who was filthy from his days on the street. His once white tank top had been turned to the color of red dirt. He filled with warmth when we offered him the meal we carried and the shirt from our pack. I was so blessed when he asked to give us all a hug. I was overwhelmed with the a sadness for all the things in life I’d taken advantage of when with one decision God could strip me of all I know and I could be the woman who was standing beside him.
We met several others along the way, learning their stories and creating small talk to get to know them.
Bruce was one story that stuck with me personally because it’s one that could happen to anyone. He had fallen ill and had to have surgery and was unable to work for several weeks. His work had then fired him because he was no longer of use to them if they couldn’t benefit from his place on their payroll. Without the pay from his job he couldn’t afford to pay all of his bills and consequently lost everything, landing him in the very camp I’d just visited. But like Keith, looking at him I would never know.
The entire night was a learning experience for me personally. I learned not to judge people, you never know their situation. That was a lesson I’d been taught over and over again before…but being apart of that ministry, even if only for a night, shed new light on exactly what people may be living that we may never expect. It taught me to serve. Also a lesson as a Christian that I’d learned previously, but I was shown the fulfillment you can get from serving others, even if it's a simple corndog and bottle of water. I learned not to take for granted all that I have and all that God has blessed me so graciously with, because in a blink of an eye he can take it away. And finally, I learned that you are not above anyone! I realized that at any point in my life that could be me jumping at the chance to eat a corndog from a stranger. I could end up in any situation with any need, at any time, and I will thank God for everything He’s given me. 

1 comment:

  1. I am so pleased that your experience with the Dayton Street Ministry was a great learning time for you. It is truly eye-opening when yous step out of your comfort zone to serve people in troubling situations like that. I'm proud of you for doing so well that night and for being so open.