It was sometime in 2008 that Micah housed its first homeless person.
Admittedly, the event transpired in the aftermath of a minor crisis in which we feared the worst had occurred for one of our street friends.
But it was a notable beginning to what we have come to understand about the making of a home for those who have gone without for quite some time.
Nearly every morning for about three years, our friend was often the first face to peek through the glass window of the original day center. Promptly at 9am, he would take his seat at the breakfast table and begin a daily download. Sometimes people listened, but most of the time he muttered on with useless facts, street gossip and a wild story or two. If something had happened in the homeless community, he was the guy you could count on to make the report. Before too long, anyone who had been paying attention could usually finish his jokes. And if you spent much time in his world you were sure to acquire a cleverly alliterated nickname.
Then one day, he didn’t come.
When his absence the next day turned into a week, we began to get quite worried. He wasn’t at our day center. He had not been to the downtown dinners. And no one in the homeless community had seen him.
On the evening of a heavy Spring rainstorm, we could not wait any longer. We knew him to camp near the river. And if something was wrong, we needed to find him fast.
Two of us set off in the storm, bound and determined to find him. But hours later we returned to the office drenched, defeated and grieving our ruined pairs of shoes. There was nothing more we could do than go home and pray that he would surface safely very soon.
It would be three more days before the rain would lift. As we would later learn, it was 72 treacherous hours that our friend had zipped himself away in a tent, hoping to keep himself and few worldly belongings from getting soaked.
When he finally did appear and the tears and the hugs settled down, it would be the last night he would spend without a roof.
This was a turning point for us. Helping people survive with food, showers, clothing and a bit of troubleshooting was no longer enough. The people we worked with were valuable treasures of God that should not be left to the mercy of the elements.
Our plan hatched quickly. Money cobbled together from our pockets kept him in a hotel for a few weeks. A local landlord graciously agreed to take a chance on him, even though he hadn’t a dime to his name on the day he signed a lease. Our church connections rallied the basics he would need to set up a home. And thankfully the combination of disability and a local work program for aging adults arrived soon to pay the bills soon after.
Seemingly, it was so easy that first time that housing became our thing—so much, that we raised money, sought grants and did it over and over again. Hundreds of people later, however, we’d tell you that a house, an income and a few sticks of furniture is also not enough to truly care for our friends with the face of Christ.
In 2 Samuel, chapter 7, King David similarly thought he could honor God by moving the Ark of the Covenant from a tent to a house as magnificent as the one he had built for himself. On the night David had professed his plans, however, God came to the prophet Nathan with a different perspective. “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day,” God said, clarifying that he had not asked for a house, nor was it a physical structure where the true reality of His kingdom would come to fruition.
“The Lord will make you a house,” He tells Nathan. Just as He had done for David when He carried him from shepherd field to palace, God wanted to be the homemaker for the people of Israel. But it would not come in the form of bricks and mortar. It would come through a human-to-human, heart-to-heart connection—the flesh of God’s son Jesus Christ.
After all these years, we too have heard the truth in this prophecy. God’s valuable treasures cannot be left in a tent. But it is also not enough to put them in a house and believe the kingdom work is done. If God is to be the homemaker and the children of God are to experience the love and redemption He desires, the warmth of one another must be present in their lives so that God can do his work.
It would have taken very little for David to construct that house for the Ark of the Covenant. Likewise, the task of housing someone who is homeless can be mastered by anyone with a few connections, resources and the determination to make a difference.
But God desires more than that.
He wants a home for all of his creation. And that can only be achieved when each of us commit to the always pursuing, relentlessly faithful, never give up on you love of God. It is the search for days, come rain or shine, muddy shoe kind of friendship that turns the houses we put people into homes.