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Spending the Summer with the Homeless

Aly Hathcock

During the summer of 2014, God wrecked my life. Instead of working a normal 9-to-5 job as I had in previous summers, God had called me to serve the underserved in Birmingham, to love the unloved, and to restore dignity where it had been lost by filming the stories of Birmingham’s homeless population and turning it into a documentary to raise awareness about homelessness.

homeless man - AlyGrowing up, I had been taught that there were two types of people: the ones I should associate with and the ones I shouldn’t. Even as I entered college, those categories still existed; but that summer, God destroyed them. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by people who seemed so counter to everyone I was supposed to be friends with. These people were ones who were homeless, who sold their bodies to survive, who were orphans and widows, who suffered from divorce, who slept under bridges, who had lost everything, who dealt drugs, who had murdered people, and who held memberships in local and national gangs. The list goes on and on.

These people were the ones whom God had called me to serve and with whom I would spend my entire summer.

Sometime during the first three weeks, I hit a crisis point. What was I doing here? I’m so different from these people. How can I possibly understand them, their stories, or their lifestyles that are so different from everything I know?

That was when God whispered in my ear, “Stop worrying. Just go, listen, and film.”

As I began listening to and filming stories, I began to notice two common threads woven into each story I heard. The first common thread was that every person was just that—a person. These people are living lives; they have families and friends. All people—homeless or not—have a story; and not only do they have a story, but they also have dreams and visions. It’s so easy to objectify the poor and underprivileged. We forget that they aren’t just bodies. They are people with souls who have been uniquely designed by the God of the universe. They are the children of God, precious and beloved.

The second thread that connected all of my homeless friends together is that they needed to feel love—and not just the love that I could show them, but the love of Jesus. My friends desperately needed to know that someone out there still cared about them, even though they had been forgotten by most of the world. They needed someone who would just sit and listen, who would love them unconditionally no matter what they said or did. I’m so thankful that I was able to be there to love them; but I knew my time with my homeless friends was limited, and they needed more than the love I could show them. The only solution was for me to point them to Jesus—the ultimate giver of Love.

The beautiful thing about these threads is that they don’t just connect all of my homeless friends together. Rather, they connect all of humanity together. Every person on Earth is a person with a story, given to them by their Heavenly Father who reigns over all, and every person has a desire to feel deeply loved, a desire that can be truly satisfied only by Jesus.

homeless line - AlyWhen I began to recognize that, apart from my life circumstances, I am no different than the homeless friend sitting beside me, I began to allow myself to love my new friends more freely. My life was no longer centered around me but around serving and loving those whom God had placed around me.

I was no longer a filmmaker filming homeless people. I was just another human, sharing life with homeless friends and telling their stories through film.

Spending my time with the people I was not supposed to hang out with and hearing their stories changed my life. These stories illustrate both the best and the worst of the human race. They are a testament to our resilience and determination to push through, even in the worst of circumstances. The stories remind me that even in the worst circumstances, there can still be joy in the present and hope for tomorrow.

Now, I’m going to ask you to do something. I’m not going to ask you to change the world or to try to solve all of the world’s many problems. Instead, I’m going to ask that you open your heart, click play on the video below, and try to put yourself in the shoes of my friends and understand. Choose to both weep and rejoice with them.

Unseen Video Image

Watch and listen to the video “Unseen—No Ordinary Story,” stories about life on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama.

Then check out Aly’s article “Questions You’re Afraid to Ask” for the story behind the documentary.

Aly Hathcock is a multimedia storyteller who loves Jesus and adventure. Find out more about her at alyhathcock.com and on Twitter at @alyhathcock.

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