Trauma

 I had the opportunity to help a homeless friend get into housing. I met him twenty years ago, we reconnected recently, and he asked if I had any ideas for a new living situation. Miraculously, my idea worked. He was in a new place within a week. That never happens. As I was praising God for his provision, I had another idea. What if we interviewed my friend for the upcoming fundraiser? It would be a few questions like, how has Operation Nightwatch, (the ministry I work for), supported you? What impact has our relationship had on your life? At first my friend refused. He was uncomfortable being filmed. While I was reassuring him that he didn’t have to participate in the fundraiser, he quickly changed his mind. “Why wouldn’t I do it, You guys have helped me out so much!”

A week passed and I showed up at his place with the two-person crew to film. I introduced everyone, and my friend began to scream at us. “How dare you guys come and expect me to tell all of my painful secrets for free. I need five hundred dollars for this shit. And fuck you Mike, you should know better.” My friend was so upset that it didn’t matter what I said. He was not hearing any of my attempts to reason, comfort, or cajole. I decided to take the night off, eat ice cream, and play my guitar. Reflecting on the situation, I came to the conclusion that my friend didn’t want to be reminded of how much help he needs, how long he has been homeless, or how demoralizing and dehumanizing his life on the street has been. I thought about how many white people have offered to “help” African American men and how emasculating accessing social services can be. I thought, I help people process their trauma.

The next week I prayed with a man who told me that he felt like giving up. He has been homeless for a long time and was exhausted. He was thinking it might be time to end his life. We kneeled in front of his tent and prayed for continued perseverance. I prayed that he would be encouraged by how much he has overcome. I reminded him that God loves him and that the author of life would never leave or forsake him. We prayed against the spirit of death and praised Jesus, the God of truth, resurrection, and light. When we were done. He told me that he cries out to God all the time and thanked me. As I was walking away, I heard him say, “I needed that!” I also heard the Spirit of the living God say, “I help people process their trauma”.

The next tent I came upon was inhabited by a young woman named pearl. She was excited to talk with clergy and told me how much God had blessed her. She met a woman who gave her a ride into town. She had to leave the motel room because her friends were smoking crystal meth and were mad at her for sleeping. “It was three in the morning, and I fell asleep outside standing up. I woke up and realized there was a bush right next to me. Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? I slept in the bush. God always provides for me.” We kneel in front of her tent and pray. She cries, and cries and cries. She thanks me for the prayer, and we do a covid, social distance, air hug. I am reminded again that God helps people process their trauma. “Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:7-8).”

Michael Cox

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