After steadily hobbling down the cold, slanted pavement beneath the busy overpass in Camden, New Jersey I flung the car door open, hopped into my seat, covered my face with my hands and busted out into tears. I sobbed aloud with my daughter in the backseat and my husband sitting beside me with a somber look upon his face because he too could feel the emotion I’d just experienced. We were expecting to meet people who were homeless on this cold winter night. We had prepared ourselves for that. Statistically, in most major cities like Camden, men are more likely to be found living in unsheltered conditions like underneath an overpass in a box like where we found ourselves on this evening on December 26th. But, as we drove around the dark city in search of the location a group of rather joyful homeless women and men told us to seek out, my husband stopped immediately because he saw two boxes piled up about 15 feet apart and without hesitation, I grabbed two “blessing bags” and I told him I would take them up because his hazard lights were broken and it was best for him to stay behind the wheel of the car.
As I trudged up the overpass I shouted, “Hi, I have something for you!” Someone wrapped tightly in blankets popped up from the boxes and I marched forward putting the bag in front of me as not to alarm the person saying again, “We just want to give you this!” When I got in arms reach of this person, SHE stood up! I was shocked! It was a beautiful, dark-skinned girl, wearing at least 2 coats, one gray in color with two long braids peaking from beneath the hats she was adorned in surely to keep her warm. I was stunned! I handed her the “blessing bag” and she frantically searched it to reveal it’s contents; snacks, feminine hygiene products, socks, razors, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, a personalized message, a small book about God’s love for her, a few other odds and ends. She smiled, and cheerfully repeated, “Thank You, Thank You!” I told her that my family was here tonight to remind her that God had not forgotten about her! All she could say was thank you! The shouts of gratitude had awaken the person who had been sleeping 15 feet away from her so I took him a “blessing bag” and he too smiled and said, “Thank You!”
I descended back to our car sad… Sad that I couldn’t do more… Sad that I was leaving a girl who appeared to be my age (34) or younger on the streets of Camden sleeping in a refrigerator box beneath a busy overpass. As I cried, as always, my husband searched for solutions to ease my sadness. He said, “Do you want to give her another one?” I didn’t know how to fix it or even if I was suppose to. I hopped back out the car and said, “I am going to give her a hug!” It was the best I could do. I’ve read research about the power of 5 hugs a day and I didn’t know if this girl even had one hug or what her story was! I ran back up to where her sleeping quarters were and said, “I just want to give you a hug!” Puzzled she said, “A-a-a hug…. ok!” We stood there embracing one another in the most unlikely of places, under the most horrid of circumstances in a place we were never expected to be.
But, that’s the point… We are called to be light in the darkest of places! Some caution, “YOU BETTER BE CAREFUL!” “WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU TAKE YOUR 8 YEAR OLD TO CAMDEN AFTER DARK TO TALK TO HOMELESS PEOPLE!” “THEY ONLY WANT MONEY!”“I WON’T GIVE TO THOSE PEOPLE ANYMORE BECAUSE THEY JUST TAKE THE MONEY AND BUY DRUGS OR ALCOHOL!”Honestly, that’s not for me to be concerned with. If my husband is led to serve the homeless population, then we are serving the homeless population regardless of the risk, rewards and statistics because we are covered by The Most High so that means we have divine protection! When God places a specific person, group or population on your heart its for a particular reason. We can’t afford to overthink and talk ourselves out of the things that God is leading us to do. People’s lives are tied to our obedience to the things of God!
What I found to be quite strange during our first dates in Philly has become the thing I love the most about my husband. We would be walking down the street holding hands and someone who appeared to be in need would pass us by and then he say, “hold on,” and proceed to RUN like Forest Gump down the street and give that person cash, offer a prayer or a handshake. It’s what inspires our family and me. I’m always reminded to “show myself friendly” to everyone I meet. So wherever my husband leads our family I am surely going to follow because he worships The Most High and is submitted to the God in him. So please don’t be worried about us! In fact, we would hope that you use our experience as momentum to jump start that thing you are called to do; or call that person you know your suppose to minster to and serve the population or church you are called too! There is a sense of urgency to be bold and to meet God people’s in the places they don’t expect people to show up. Make a deliberate choice to humble yourself and serve other people more often than not.
It was such a huge oxymoron for us to witness an entire street full of people sleeping in tents and makeshift shelters on December 26th, the day after citizens of our country have managed to spend $655 billion dollars on material items for one of the most popular holidays in the world. HUGE eye opener and I am glad my 8 year old was there to see and be encouraged to continue to serve God with her whole heart because there are people who need our boldness, selfless acts and love.
We ended our night on the street in Camden saddened because we had run out of “blessing bags” and coats to give (Thanks cousin Darrell for the BRAND NEW COATS you donated)! Alan, Ailani and I gathered there, hand in hand and prayed aloud as a witnessed a lady happily hanging the 2 new coats we had given her on the post of the fence as if it were her bedroom closet and a man come from beneath a tarp and walk swiftly down the dark street toward the stop sign and a man with a face as stoic as stone sitting on the steps of the church surrounded by people sleeping on cots made from boxes and newspaper and we prayed asking God for protection for those who slept around us, provision to carry out the visions He has given us and abundance to be able to give more than we able to give on this night.
It’s not about us; it’s not about you, but what we are called to do TOGETHER! Don’t wait for your church leaders to organize that thing you are itching to do. WE ARE THE CHURCH! As the African proverb states, “Many hands make the work light!”
Would you like to partner with us?
Maybe you can donate cash to purchase items for our “blessing bags,” you’re a Couponer and have a stock pile of toiletries or maybe you’re a prayer warrior and want to go with us because you’re not afraid of loving on strangers who need to be loved…
Use the contact from attached to this post or contact us via one of the following modes:
A special Thank You to the participants in the summer sessions of the Best of Me character development program for their diligence and part in this service project. We held a spelling bee and for each word they spelled correctly they were given a dollar in which they decided I would use to purchase the items included in the “blessing bags.”