Providing much more than food

February 1, 2016 -- Living City

Providing much more than food
When a Texan mission’s friars were called away, this couple continued serving the homeless

Working with the homeless in our town of Fort Worth, Texas, has been one of the greatest sources of joy for my husband and me for the last several years. It’s not so much about providing these people with food in a loving environment, but rather addressing the poverty of loneliness, apparent loss of dignity and love. Those most in need of love among the homeless population are often those most difficult to love: the mentally ill, physically ill, addicts, alcoholics, ex-convicts and those unable to perform the basic functions of good hygiene.

But we are called to love Jesus by loving each neighbor. Every time we offer comfort in a hug, console a crying child, pour a cup of coffee or prepare food, we do it with love and joy, because we do it for Jesus. Even mopping the floor can be done with great joy and love because it is for Jesus. Everything is for Jesus.

The mission where we were working with the poor and homeless was closed last May, when the friars who ran it were called to serve other communities in the U.S. and other countries. We had a difficult time understanding how this could possibly be God’s will! Why would God take such a beautiful mission away from those who so desperately needed the friars’ love and compassion? And why would God take them away from us and the rest of the community of volunteers who had come to love them so much?

As my husband and I grieved this loss, we came to understand it as God’s will for us. While we missed the friars, we felt God was telling us to step out of our comfort zone and continue to bring his love, compassion and mercy to our neighbors in the parks, shelters and homeless camps without the safety net of the mission. While this task can be daunting, when we remind ourselves that we are doing it for Jesus, we cannot hesitate.

We now visit the homeless in Unity Park each Saturday. We drink coffee and catch up on news about their health, search for work, housing and the latest political events. Beyond the coffee talk, we lend a hand with simple needs, like giving a ride to a medical appointment or a local laundromat.

One of our friends, who lives in a tent camp, asked for some basic hygienic supplies, which we provided. Another lady’s purse strap broke, and we just happened to have a spare one that met her needs. Sometimes we are simply asked to walk a blind gentleman across a busy street or share a hug and a prayer with an acquaintance recently diagnosed with cancer. One scorching hot Sunday we invited some women to our home for lunch and to do laundry and had a wonderful afternoon together.

No one has ever asked for money, and their requests are simple: herbal tea bags, sanitary wipes or sturdy tote bags in which to carry their belongings. Over the last few months we have deepened our relationships with them as trust grows. We are currently helping a woman with a terminal condition get into assisted living housing and aiding another in applying for disability income, due to her mental and physical conditions that prevent her from getting work. Every encounter ends with “I love you.” Often we receive text messages from our friends just to say, “Love y’all.”

More recently we have been blessed with unexpected help from others. A coworker brought several pairs of glasses for our friends, and another colleague secured a donation of thousands of zip-lock bags for packaging food for the homeless. Another time we received a call from a woman with 100 brand new winter coats to donate and distribute to our friends in the park.

Our friends are men and women, all ages, from many ethnic backgrounds. However, they gather at Unity Park with a smile and a hug for us, and as Mother Teresa would say, “Each is Jesus in disguise.”

— Dana Squires, Texas