devozine

For Youth Workers Post

HOMELESSNESS

Lanecia A. Rouse

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for January 11–17, 2016.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

church doors

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

“On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” at Riverside Church

“When I was eight years old, my parents took the family on a road trip from South Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee. I will never forget peeking out a hotel window to take in the view of downtown Music City, only to be distracted by a woman digging through a dumpster. I ran over and woke up my parents, bringing them to the window.

“Look down there! What is that woman doing?”

“They took a look and gently said, ‘Lanecia, she is looking for something to eat.’

“I peeked out again and saw her feasting on something she had pulled out of the trash can. I began to cry as my parents talked to me about homelessness and answered all of my questions about why God would allow people to be homeless.

“That moment changed me, awakening me to what I now know was a call from God. At eight years old, I knew only the desire to keep people from having to eat out of a dumpster. When we got back home, my parents helped my sister and me find a way to provide a weekly meal at the church for men and women living on the streets of our city. Every Sunday evening, we offered a meal, which led to relationships and stories that have informed the way I see people and my responsibility as a human being with hundreds of thousands of neighbors who are living on the streets.

“That moment of seeing and then being empowered by my parents and church community to live what we believed around the dinner table with homeless men and women made a profound impact on my life.

“Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the church has a gospel imperative to see people as God’s beloved regardless of their circumstances and to make sure everyone knows love. We have a responsibility and the resources to feed the hungry, to provide clothing and shelter, to empower people to reimagine their lives with God, and to walk beside people as they stumble, walk, or run toward a new life.

“I’ve learned so much from my friends who are or were at some point experiencing homelessness. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of language. One of my friends once said, ‘Don’t limit or define me by my circumstances. I am a beloved child of God who happens to be experiencing homelessness. I don’t call you a home person and define you by your circumstance. I call you Lanecia and see you as a beloved child of God. Don’t call me homeless. Call me by my name.’

“We are all beloved children of God. Our stories have shaped the circumstances we were born into, influenced the choices we made, and led us to different places in life. This session will guide your group in thinking theologically about what it means to love neighbors who are living on the streets, as Christ commanded; to see everyone as a beloved child of God; and to learn more about those who are experiencing homelessness.” —Lanecia

MEET THE WRITER

Lanecia-Feature-SQLanecia A. Rouse is my name. I am a creative (photographer, artist, writer, speaker) living in Houston, Texas. Before becoming a full-time creative in September 2014, I served as the Project Director of The Art Project, Houston, a therapeutic art and self-empowerment project of the Bread of Life, Inc. with men and women living on the streets of Houston, Texas. Prior to moving to Houston, I served in youth ministry for thirteen years, most received with the brilliant, bursting, beautiful, youth of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Get to know Lanecia.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • Bibles
  • paper
  • pencils and pens
  • cardboard from boxes (enough to make 10-15 signs plus one for each person in your group)
  • sharpies or markers
  • colored pencils
  • acrylic paint
  • brushes
  • Modge Podge
  • sponge brushes
  • paper plates for paint
  • cups of water for brushes
  • photographs or artwork downloaded from the Internet
  • a candle
  • matches or a lighter
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGED IN

BOOKS AND RESOURCES
The books and links below provide information about homelessness, ministry with people living on the streets, building compassionate relationships in ways that recognize the humanity of each person, love, and the importance of boundaries in relationships and community.

  • The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne provides a glimpse of authentic faith rooted in love, belief, and action—following Jesus to the places and people love commands we go. A number of stories come from Shane Claiborne’s journey of “practicing resurrection.” He writes about homelessness and what it may mean to love your neighbor who is living on the streets.
  • Touch: Pressing Against the Wounds of a Broken World, by Rudy Rasmus describes the work of Pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus in downtown Houston, Texas, and their ministry of unconditional love, grace, and commitment to serving people from every social and economic background.
  • Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America, by Mike Yankoski. Find information about the book and additional resources.
  • When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, is a book of stories, reflections and questions that will be helpful to youth as they think of effective and holistic ways to follow Jesus to all of the places they are called to go. Though the book has a strong international ministry focus, its principles can be applied to all cross-cultural and socio-economic relationships.

VIDEOS

  • Inocente is a documentary about the transformative power of art and a snapshot of the new face of homelessness in America. It will immerse you in the real, day-to-day existence of a young girl. The challenges in her life are staggering, but the hope in Inocente’s story proves that she is defined not by the hand she has been dealt but by her dreams. It is a story of truth, resilience, hope, and empowerment.
    > Information about the documentary
    > Inocente, a short documentary
  • Homeless Teens” is a video about a teen living on the street and interviews with people in the city where she lives.

CHECKING IN

For this session, you will need to prepare ten to twelve cardboard signs. Write on one side of the cardboard accurate statistics about homelessness in the United States. Statistics can be found in the resources listed in “Plugged In.” You may also want to include some local statistics. Write on the other side of the cardboard inaccurate statistics. (If you have more than fifteen people, make duplicate signs, and split the group for this activity.) Display the signs, some with the accurate statistics showing and some with the inaccurate statistics showing.

Distribute paper and pencils. Instruct group members to read each of the signs and to write down which statistics they believe are accurate.

After 10-15 minutes, bring the group together. Read through the accurate statistics. You can make the activity a competition, but its purpose is to find out how much group members already know about homelessness as well as to educate them about the realities of homelessness in the United States.

Play one or more video clips from “Plugged In.” Then invite discussion:
       What have you learned about the state of homelessness in the United States?
       What are your reactions and impressions after doing the activity and seeing the videos?
       What new questions and perspectives do the activity and videos raise for you?
       Do you know someone who lives on the street? What are perspectives on or realities of homelessness that you have learned from him or her?

You know the makeup of your group, so be mindful while guiding the conversation that language is not used that may do harm to anyone in your group. You may have participants in your group who are experiencing, have experienced, or know someone who is experiencing homelessness. As much as possible, be aware of language that creates an “us” and “them” scenario or defines people by their situation (“a homeless person” or “the homeless” rather than “a person experiencing homelessness” or “people living on the streets”).

After everyone has had a chance to speak, say something like this: “Tonight, we are going to be thinking theologically about homelessness and imagine ways we can participate in loving well our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.”

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: Matthew 25:35–40, Luke 10:25–37

Often, as Jesus moved through the crowds, teaching and healing, people asked him questions. Sometimes the questions came from a place of sincere seeking; sometimes they were designed to create an angry response from the crowd, and sometimes the questions were to test or make a fool of Jesus. Jesus never stepped away from being present to the question and providing answers.

Jesus was a master storyteller and wordsmith. He often guided people, through questions and stories, toward love, understanding, and faithful living. The Gospel of Luke includes a number of parables that Jesus told to help people grow in their love of God, neighbor, and self. Today we are going to explore one of his most familiar parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

An expert in the law tries to trip Jesus up with the question: Who is my neighbor? As usual, Jesus does not skip a beat in responding to his inquiry. Jesus tells a parable about a man left beaten and broken down in a ditch on the side of the road.

Ask group members this question:
       What is a parable? (A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles for living.)

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the characters are the traveler who was robbed and left on the dangerous road to Jericho; the robbers who left the traveler at the side of the road; the priest, a religious figure; a Levite, a worker; and the Samaritan, who is from a group of people who had been discriminated against, avoided, and ignored for generations. It is a parable that is as relevant today as it was when Jesus first told it.

Invite the group to listen as you read aloud Luke 10:25–37. Then ask all or some of the following reflection questions:
       What is one word or phrase that captured your attention in the text?
       What are the two great commandments to be?
       The lawyer asked Jesus, Who is my neighbor? How does Jesus define neighbor? How is his definition different or similar to your understanding of neighbor?
       What do you think the lawyer learned from the parable?
       What did you learn from the parable?
       Why do you think the other men did not stop to help the man?
       Why do we often pass people by?
       How does the text challenge you or shed new light on the encounters you may have with people you initially want to avoid?
       When have you been in need of help and compassion? Did someone stop to help you and offer you compassion? How did you feel? Did the experience change your way of seeing and responding to others in need?

In the Gospels, we see Jesus showed compassion and met people with love. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us we are to do the same. Then we are caring for and meeting Jesus in our neighbor.

Read aloud Matthew 25:35–40.
       What does the scripture mean to you?
       In what ways does it challenge or inspire you?
       What is required of us to see everyone, regardless of their circumstances, through the eyes of compassion?
       What is required of us to see persons experiencing homelessness with the eyes of compassion?
       What are some wise, humanizing, and empowering ways we can love our neighbors who are struggling? How can we avoid letting our fear build walls between us? How can we act without doing harm to our neighbors or to ourselves?

Read the quotation by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the beginning of this session. Ask:
       When it comes to our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness, what are some ways we can begin to transform “the Jericho road” to the streets of our cities and begin to move toward ending homelessness?
       Why is it important to be willing to help others?
       What are some ways we can love well and faithfully our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness?
       (Here are possible answers:
       > acknowledge people on the street with a “hello” or a smile
       > volunteer with a non-profit that works with persons experiencing homeless
       > empower people to live to their full potential
       > support people’s dreams to live in the image of God
       > donate clothes to a local shelter
       > financially support organizations helping to provide solutions for homelessness
       > pray for people who are struggling
       > advocate for laws that show compassion to people experiencing homelessness)

Give each person a piece of cardboard. Have available a variety of art supplies. Invite each participant to create artwork that expresses a prayer or dream for or about homelessness. They may choose to draw, collage, write, or paint. Encourage them to pull inspiration from the study, allowing it to shape the images, words, and phrases they put on the cardboard.

Display the art in the meeting room, inside or outside of the church, or in places in the community that support the mission of creating public art to bring awareness to homelessness. If you place the work in the community, include a web address from a local organization that offers opportunities to volunteer or learn more about homelessness.

[NOTE: Photographs for this activity can be found with a Google search for graffiti art about homelessness. Some beautiful art pieces bring awareness to the problem of homelessness and the need for change.]

SHARING IN PRAYER

Ask group members to sit in a circle. Place a candle in the center of the circle and light it, saying, “The lit candle represents the presence of Christ.”

Then pick up the candle and pass it around the circle. As each person holds the candle, ask him or her to answer this question:
       When did you experience joy this week?
If people choose not to answer, instruct them to pass the candle to the next person. Continue around the circle until everyone has had a chance to answer.

Close the session by offering one of these two prayers:

PRAYER #1:
“Creating and Re-Creating God, thank you for loving us and for inviting us to love the world with you. Continue to mold, shape, and teach us to see, speak, and act with compassion toward everyone we encounter. May those who do not often experience love know your love through us. Amen.”

PRAYER #2: “Lord, Lord, Open unto Me” by Howard Thurman
       “Open unto me — light for my darkness.
       Open unto me — courage for my fear.
       Open unto me — hope for my despair.
       Open unto me — peace for my turmoil.
       Open unto me — joy for my sorrow.
       Open unto me — strength for my weakness.
       Open unto me — wisdom for my confusion.
       Open unto me — forgiveness for my sins.
       Open unto me — tenderness for my toughness.
       Open unto me — love for my hates.
       Open unto me — Thy Self for my self.

       Lord, Lord, open unto me! Amen.

TAKING IT FURTHER

  • Invite one or more people from a local organization to speak about their work and to tell about the realities of homelessness in your community. Stories are powerful forms of art that can compel, transform, and awaken the creativity in your group so that they can become agents of compassion and change.
  • Host a showing of the documentary Inocente, followed by a conversation about the film. A number of resources are available online to help facilitate the conversation.

—from devozine In the Habit (January/February 2016). Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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