|Late one night at a homeless camp in Fredericksburg, two women began to discuss the safety concerns of living outdoors. One had spent most of her adult life sleeping in a tent. The other was a graduate of the University of Alabama, who ran four intensive care units during her nursing career. She had only been living outside for a few weeks, following a rocky breakdown in her family situation.
“Come on,” the experienced homeless woman said to the other. “Take your shoes off. I’ll show you what you need to know.”
For a few hours that night, both of them barefoot, they practiced walking a path in and out of the woods.
“That way,” she said. “You’ll always know how to make it out safely if something happens in the middle of the night, you can’t find your shoes and you have to find your way out of the woods.”
The novice homeless woman, would spend another five years on the street. She survived, largely because the others who lived outside with her became a community that not only kept her safe, but offered hope during one of the darkest, loneliest times in her life.
It is easy to get caught up in the suffering of unhoused neighbors. But in doing so, we often miss the asset of community that has always existed among them. It causes me to wonder, what would it be for us to embrace that asset, give people their own space and key to it, and pair it with our own resources to help keep that community going?
The Jeremiah Community—a neighborhood of small homes, purposeful activity and meaningful relationships—proposed by the downtown churches is imagined as such a place. It comes not just from a need to house people and get them off the street; but it claims our homeless community as an exiled people who already know a thing or two about caring for one another.
Too often, we forget that the foundation of humanity is built upon a God who created us with a home and a purpose. That purpose being to cultivate and care for creation (Genesis 2:15). After all these years, I just don’t think it is possible for a person to lose that reason for existence just because they are exiled into homelessness. None of us are unlike the people of the bible who often find themselves getting evicted from their dwelling places, wandering in a wilderness, putting up tents and, by all means possible, trying to find their way home again. And no matter how long we spend in our displacement, God relentlessly promises the same end of the story for us all—everybody goes home.
The problem is, especially in church world, we are too accepting of that home being something we are working for, even earning, in a distant future usually following our death.
But Jesus says, thy kingdom come, thy will be done… on earth as it is in heaven.
In Jeremiah 29, the prophet tells the exiles that God still wants a hope and future for them, even though they are now homeless. The displaced people long to return to the place from where they came, but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Home, however, is not just a matter of a physical place. As Jeremiah explains, it is a people, a purpose and an identity. By building houses, planting gardens and celebrating life together, even when the circumstances are the last place they want to be, the exiles can normalize and even find joy in the here and now. They don’t have to wait for something to be realized when they get their act together or even in an afterlife. In seeking the welfare of the community in which they find themselves, Jeremiah says, they can find their own welfare.
Like an exiled people of Jeremiah’s time, the Micah community is often written off as a group of people who cannot be helped. At times, they have even been vilified for their perceived social struggles. When, in fact, they are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of our community whose catastrophic loss of family has often caused them to lose housing, community, identity and purpose. And the only way to truly end their homelessness is to claim our home and our purpose as brothers and sisters of the same creation in which God planted us. Housing will never solve a homelessness caused by catastrophic losses of family, but community will.
We may not have any influence over heaven. But God tasked us as caretakers of creation from the very beginning. That means it is our job to recognize how God is already moving among us and to follow the holy spirit in the opportunities that present themselves for heaven to become increasingly apparent here on earth.
We can get caught up in the tragedy and suffering that consumes this community and look away because it is so very overwhelming. Or we can open our eyes to the wound that is the world and admit that there is no place else that God would rather be. If thy kingdom is to come on earth as it is in heaven, that’s where we should be too.
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. “
Many thanks to those who joined the Micah family of faith on June 1 at Hurkamp Park to look back on the stories that have shaped the space God is calling us next. If you missed the Prayer Gathering, you can still view it on Facebook Live or use the links below to learn more about the vision and how you can get involved.