“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” — Luke 9:58, Matthew 8:20 (NIV)
“Stop!” she shouted. “Are you telling me that Jesus was a homeless refugee?!”
We were smack-dab in the middle of what had, up to that moment, been a rather calm, routine Bible study at Ohio Wesleyan University with a very dedicated, devout group of students. We had just read Luke 9:58. I had just said, “So ponder this passage prayerfully: This wandering, self-proclaimed Rabbi Jesus was a single man, homeless, and a refugee from all the political, economic, religious, and military powers that occupied his home country.”
We stopped, just as she demanded, but the conversation became intense. “I never learned that in Sunday School!” “But, wait; what if chaplain is right! What does this mean for how we think about and treat all these homeless people today? I heard there are even some really weird homeless guys that hang around the benches downtown in Delaware! What is that about?! It just gives me the creeps!”
My family and I came to Delaware over 31 years ago and settled into an amazing neighborhood on West Winter Street. We raised our family here. We immersed our whole family in the culture of this town: first with restoring the Arts Castle; then engaging in the many social service programs like United Way and People in Need; then serving as co-founders of Delaware Habitat for Humanity. Never, in all of these ventures, were we more excited than a decade ago, when we were able to help transform the house at the end of our block into what is now the Family Promise House.
Now, just 10 years later, we have 15 area churches who serve as hosts; four as support churches; and six more as sponsor churches of this amazing ministry that shelters over 60 families a year with over 6,000 nights of stay; keeping families intact (something not possible at every shelter); and partnering with a local daycare center providing free care for families during their stay. This multi-church ministry provides more than just food and shelter. It also provides case management, life skills development, and acts as a very proactive bridge to other crucial community services.
If you might be one of those who think homeless people are just dead-beats, lazy, no-goods, worthless bums who are just trying to abuse the system, I encourage you to step up and volunteer through your church to be a host or hostess for our guests at Family Promise. I just did that this past week, and I was delighted and deeply blessed to meet amazing young families (moms, dads, and children) down on their luck; to a person, they were sincere, loving, faithful, dedicated, hard-working, and just down-right poor folks who simply cannot afford the increasingly high rents for family homes in Delaware. So for me, this is no longer just a Biblical or a theological or pastoral issue. It is also a political and economic issue.
Oh, but wait! I just shared about families; what about single men? Sorry, guys! There is nothing for you here in Delaware. The cold-shelter ministry at UCC Zion that our beloved brother Jon Peterson spearheaded so beautifully some years ago may continue to be an option. But nothing else here, single fellows (like Jesus!); sorry!!
Just the other day, I chatted with my friend, Barry, who is a relatively well-known homeless man on the streets of Delaware. It was a very cold night. I asked, “Barry, do you have a place tonight?” He said, “Well, kinda.” He would not tell me more, and I have enough of a respectful relationship with Barry not to press; but his answer is, to me, absolutely unacceptable. We are better than this, Delaware.
The Rev. Jon R. Powers is the university chaplain at Ohio Wesleyan University.