We walk through the tent encampment that sits next to the freeway. We come here every Monday, today It is bitter cold, and the beanie I am wearing is not cutting it. Edward is walking toward me with a bit of a limp and tells me about the terrible medical care he received this morning. He takes out his phone and shows me a photo of his knee. It is a giant bloody abscess, covered with oozing puss. Edward claims that the doctors didn’t know what they were doing so he left. I listen and am excited to hear that Edward has housing. His neighbor thinks he has an evil spirit and that his room is haunted. She harasses him and other tenants all day long. Edward is working on being patient and not losing his temper. One violent outburst would result in losing his housing. Before we part ways, we pray for healing in his knee and protection from people who seek to get him off track. His mom and brother still live in the encampment and are deep in the abyss of addiction. Edward, like many homeless people, struggles with how to help friends and family that are still homeless. The cost of sobriety and a new life are steep and will require Edward to make choices that will result in even greater isolation and loneliness.
I approach a tent and gently offer gloves, beanies, and handwarmers. A voice joyfully yells, “hold on a second I am reading my Bible.” A young man in his twenties pokes his head out and greets me with a beautiful toothless smile. His name is Doug, and he shares with me how God changed his life. He and his brother took a huge amount of drugs with the intention of dying. They were driving a car going a hundred and sixty-eight miles an hour and ended up in a high-speed chase with the police. His brother, who has never believed in God began to pray to Jesus. “Lord save us we want to live.” Doug woke up in the hospital handcuffed to the bed, happy and thankful to be alive. Months later a pastor from a local church offered to pray for him. Doug experienced the Love of Christ and, “has been on the hook with God ever since!” Doug goes on to tell me his plan to get off drugs once and for all. I offer my resources, and Doug respectfully declines. We both agree that his plan for recovery is going to work! My older gentleman’s body is starting to get sore from squatting and bending over to hear all that is on Doug’s heart. Before I leave, he wants to read me his favorite verse. He tells me that it always makes him cry. “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:33-34).” Tears well up in Doug’s eyes and we pray. I literally witness the “Word become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14). The presence of God takes up residence and dwells in a tent and “tabernacles” with his people. “When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door (Exodus 33”9-10).”
The hope of Jesus is born in distressing circumstances through unremarkable people. We ended the week with an outdoor vigil to remember the two hundred and seventy people who died last year homeless and unsheltered. As the community of advocates, friends, and families of the homeless stood on the steps of city hall with candles and signs bearing the names of the deceased, the contrast between the transformative power of Jesus and the governmental system of domination couldn’t be clearer. Standing in twenty-degree weather and believing a baby born in a barn to unmarried teenagers can change everything seems reasonable. “The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out (John 1:5).”