Case Study

It is evident among Christian circles that God cares for the poor, and that we are called to care for them as well. Yet the kingdom of God is so much more than just the middle class “helping” the poor. How do we reconcile the two classes, especially in a the confines of a Christian homeless shelter?

Everyday, in places like the Union Rescue Mission, God’s word is made flesh as good-intentioned, middle class Christians are overworked to fight the plague of poverty and homelessness that have infested most of our cities, like Skid Row, LA. These Christians are cooped up in offices, separated from the very people the are trying to help. There is a major disconnect between the homeless and the employed in these missions. Relationships that are formed are based on a helper-helpee dynamic. This leads to further burnout and unbalanced and empty relationships. The homeless are not given the dignity and respect of being seen as equals. How do we bridge this gap? How can we empower the homeless, give them dignity, and help them take ownership over their problems? How can we make the power struggles that lie within the confines of a mission, more egalitarian?

The kingdom of God looks nothing like this model. Jesus would not drive into the parking garage, blind to the homeless sleeping on the street, then go up to his office. Jesus would build real friendships. He would know people by name instead of talking about “them” and “the homeless.” Each person is a name and a face. The kingdom of God looks like unity amongst all people of the shelter. The kingdom of God embodies peace and justice and community. Transformational ministry occurs in the lives of both parties when they are able to engage in real friendships, real relationships, instead of a disconnect and isolation between the floors where the homeless live and eat and the floors where the workers eat and work. A better community needs to be fostered. An egalitarian body needs to emerge.

Power struggles and separation are not only a tension between workers and the homeless, but also amongst the homeless themselves. There lies a tension between those in the program, those who are in volunteer positions, and those who are just there for emergency shelter. Pride and identity stem from these distinctions. Even more distinct lies the divisions between the security and staff and the homeless, as well as these groups versus the full-time employed. Division and competition are fed instead of harmony and well-being through unity of the body of Christ. Several measures have been taken to promote change. Employees take time to eat lunch and chat with the homeless in their cafeteria instead of eating in the office lunchroom. Security guards wear plain clothes instead of uniforms and are becoming friendlier to the homeless. News programs are played in the homeless guest room, instead of dumbed-down comedic movies. These small steps are making a huge change in making the atmosphere more kingdom-like. Much more needs to be done.

Much more needs to be done in the spiritual formation of both parties, as we begin to understand each other and become a part of the body of Christ.

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One Response to “Case Study”

  1. jrrozko1 Says:

    Sounds like a good case study and like you are off to a good start. I appreciate your kingdom vision. I want to encourage you to really think through how the kingdom practices you envision 1) relate to the cultural factors you describe and 2) might be brought about over time. Be sure to help both you and your readers out with a clear thesis statement which serves as a guide and ties the paper together. Excited to read the finished product.

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