loving neighbors

Katy Steele

devozine RLVNTfinal2James Barnett never imagined that he would be homeless; yet for two years, he slept on the streets with the poor—by choice. It was the only response to his faith that seemed to make sense.

“To me, the only rational response to a God who says, ‘Give up everything and follow me,’ is to give up everything and follow him,” James said.

So he did.


The Beginning

James grew up in a Christian home. Throughout high school and college, he attended church, did service work, and went on mission trips. James was a good guy and felt that he was doing what he was supposed to do to be a good Christian. After college, James found a good job with a six-figure salary. But somewhere in the mix of well-paid work and good deeds, James realized that something was missing.

The Turning Point

devozine trash dump 182095_190235307664519_3880920_nJames called up a buddy who was taking a mission trip and asked if he could tag along. He had never left the U. S. before he set foot in Nicaragua and looked poverty in the face. In Nicaragua, James met Mrs. Ruby, a Jamaican prophetess who lived in a dump with the city’s poor. Before James left, Mrs. Ruby prayed over him, saying these words he has never forgotten: “Child, the Lord wants you to know that you haven’t been obedient.”

At first, James was angry. He was a good person. How had he not been obedient?

Mrs. Ruby spoke again. “My child,” she said calmly, “your obedience isn’t defined by what you don’t do, but by what you do for the world God loves.”

Suddenly, James began to realize the difference between admiring Christ and following him. He could admire Christ by not living a bad life, but he could follow Christ only by taking seriously Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

devozine Nicaragua 2009 - wave2The Journey

Not long after he got home from Nicaragua, James quit his job and sold everything he owned. He bought a van and went out onto the streets to live among the poor. For two years, he traveled from city to city to love the people the world overlooks. Sometimes he found himself in dangerous situations; but time and time again, he felt the Lord’s voice leading him and protecting him.

A Gift

It rained the first week James spent on the streets. As he handed out ponchos to people who were wet and cold, a homeless man pointed to an alleyway and told James to follow him. Nervous, James hesitated; but he sensed a voice saying, “Go. Trust in my peace.” The man led James to a men’s restroom. They went inside and found a circle of homeless people gathered against the wall. The man turned to James. “I noticed your socks were wet,” he said reaching out toward a hand dryer. “This is how we stay warm and dry our socks. I wanted to give something to you.”

James looked at him, amazed. This was the start of the journey. James had set out to give to the poor, never realizing that the Lord would use the poor to give to him.


devozine CYNY vols in HaitiClothe Your Neighbor as Yourself

When James was on the streets he gave out shirts and socks to the homeless. When he ran out of supplies, he raised money for more by designing T-shirts and selling them to his friends and family. He does the same thing today but on a bigger scale. In 2010, his organization, Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself, became an official non-profit organization. Its mission is to take seriously Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to do something about it.


devozine James with Haitian boy2DIG DEEPER

What will you do in response to Jesus’ call to “follow me”? How will you love your neighbor? It’s simple: Go to Buy a T-shirt. Then go to and designate how the proceeds from your order will be used to help someone in your local community. For example, you may choose to provide baby clothes for an impoverished new mom or interview clothes for a person who is homeless. CYNY will ship the requested clothing items to you so that you can hand deliver them to your neighbor. The goal is to equip you to help your neighbors in need while sporting a stylish T-shirt of your own.

Want to get your youth group involved with CYNY as donors or clothing distributors? Email James at for details. Your group may receive a discount code when it joins the movement.


devozine James with group in Haitidevozine 169045_190234900997893_8112128_n


Katy Steele wants to live a radical life for Jesus. She likes adventures and acoustic guitar, and she feels really cool when she wears her favorite Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself v-neck T-shirt. Check them out at and join the Clothe Your Neighbor movement.

—from devozine (January/February 2013). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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