Yesterday, I visited the Dame La Mano Emergency Shelter for homeless families in the El Paso. This makeshift shelter is the home to somewhere around 30 adults and 40 children. These families live in tiny rooms filled wall to wall with mattresses, or in temporary rooms divided by blue tarps straight from the hardware story.
In recent weeks the El Paso Fire Department wrote up the facility as a extreme fire hazard and dangerous. This made news in El Paso, so many community leaders have stepped up to help. I was told a local company will soon install the needed sprinkler system to provide for greater safety for the residents.
Two young women from our church made connection with the leadership of the shelter and began to reach out to the residents. They insisted that I do a site visit. As I drove to the location of the shelter it was getting dark and I must admit I felt just a bit uncomfortable and unsettled in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is primarily a commercial part of town. Needless to say it lacked sidewalks, trees, and playgrounds.
I confess I am somewhat naive about the struggles of the homeless. For me, the bearded weathered man on the corner with a cardboard sign, and a cup is the face of homeless for me. If there was one lasting impression and memory from the visit it was the faces of the children. Homelessness in my hometown is a family story–it is the story of mothers and fathers. It is the story of boys and girls. It is the story of a toddler with a blanket, and a teenager with a cellphone.
You cannot look into the smiling face of a homeless child and be indifferent. As Henry Blackaby notes in his classic work “Experiencing God”–God invited me to join Him in His work–and now I am at a crisis of faith that demands trust and most importantly action.
In Matthew 25, the King commends his true and faithful servants for their service rendered to him. He noted:
“when I was a stranger you invited me in…”
The faithful ones questioned when they had ever even seen the King, much less the King as a stranger.” He replied:
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Yesterday I looked into the face of Jesus–in the face of a homeless child. I pray I will never be the same.