Can the Homeless Actually Be Happy?

He must be lying to himself. There is no way he is actually happy.

“It’s a beautiful day and I’m just happy to be alive!”, one of my friend’s on the street proclaims again.

Everytime he says it, I ask myself, is he being honest? He is a homeless man living on the streets of Denver. Does he even know what happiness is?

As we enter into the lives of the homeless on the streets, we are greeted by every personality type. Each type unique to the other and each with a different response to their homelessness. Yet there is still a small group that is rarely rattled and who always seem to be having a good day. They somehow find things in life to be happy about, even when it would appear these things don’t exist.

While there is always something negative they could focus on, they choose the other option.

They choose to focus on the good.

I visualize this focus as a spotlight. The spotlight passes over all of the good and bad parts of my life, but I get to choose what I am going to let it illuminate.

However, even with this visual, I don’t always choose to shine light on the good in my life, all of the blessings God has bestowed upon me. It’s so much easier for me to focus on the negative. There is always something I could complain about, (legitimate or not) that I could shine a light on and dwell over.

If there is anyone in life we would never blame for focusing on the negative, it is the homeless. Yet, we encounter homeless friends every day who are happy. They are focusing their spot light on the good, choosing to find the subtle joys in their lives. They have figured it out. Where they shine their light is their choice, a choice we are all free to choose.

Now when I hear my friend say he’s just happy to be alive, I believe him.

Blake is from Hastings, NE. He served as a missionary with Christ in the City from 2015-2017 and is now on staff as the Director of College Outreach & Recruitment. He enjoys Husker football, Dr. Pepper, and long road trips.

Feeling “At Home” with the Homeless

I often describe relationships with certain people as, “being at home” with them. However, this isn’t a conventional feeling. So what is it? It’s a sense of comfort, joy, and love I feel when around them.

I am lucky enough to call many people in many places, “home”— my family, close friends, and more recently, my community here at Christ in the City. I never thought however, that I would find yet another home during my time here— a home with the homeless.  

During my first street walk, I felt completely out of place. I saw the homeless and thought, they are so different from me. I will never be comfortable around them, much less feel a sense of belonging with them.

Then it happened.

I was leading a group of college students on a Saturday morning street walk. I was eager to introduce them to some of my homeless friends and show them my street route. However, my excitement soon turned into frustration as I was unable to find a single familiar face.

Quickly, I felt out of place, unqualified to do this ministry.

The park that I walked through every day immediately became a foreign land, lacking the familiar faces I longed to find. Slowly giving up hope, we decided to make our way back home.

As we crossed the street, I saw one of my homeless friends joyfully smiling, sitting underneath a tree. The spot was unfamiliar and outside the zone of my usual street route, yet I felt completely at ease walking over to greet him. I felt at home. In that moment, I realized it’s not the place that makes somewhere feel like home, but the people.

The Lord has worked in mysterious and unexpected ways through my friends on the street. He has softened my heart and created a space within me to love the most unexpected people. He has given me the ability to feel at home with the homeless.

Gabi is a missionary from Tupelo, MS. She is a sucker for ice cream, always has a song stuck in her head no matter what, and loves people watching in airports. 

Why I’ve Resisted Friendship

“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” – William Blake

I don’t like this quote. As an introvert, I tend to avoid sharing my heart. My refusal to be vulnerable with others stems from a place of deep self-loathing. In the past, I gave into the many lies that left me believing I was unknowable, unlovable, and incapable of friendship. In an attempt to protect myself, I put up thousands of walls around my heart. Yet, instead of the fortress I had hoped for, I created a starvation bunker.

Ironically, I ended up at Christ in the City. With missionary life practically revolving around friendship, I quickly found myself face to face with the paradox I was living. I believed friendship was impossible, yet I’m living in community? Friendship is impossible; yet everyday I make new friends on the street?

Then came a wake-up call: Amy, your heart is starving for this. You have to let yourself be known and loved. You need friendship. Friendship is your home.

So why have I resisted?

I have resisted the idea of friendship because I was so frightened by the thought of getting hurt.

Many of our friends on the street believe the same lies about themselves that I do. They feel that same self-loathing, and think they too, are a burden. Like me, they don’t want to get hurt more than they already have. For many, friendship has not been and is still not worth the risk.           

As a missionary, I have the unique privilege of striving to know, love, and serve our friends on the street. I want them to know that I see them, that I love them just the way they are, and that I hope the world for them. I want them to believe that I am their friend.

But in order to do that, I have to be open to it myself.

It has taken long hours of sitting in the chapel and finding my identity in the gaze of Christ to begin to chip away at the wall of lies I have built around my heart. Long hours of learning how to receive love and let others hold my heart. Long hours of repeating to myself over and over that I am not a burden.

I know that friendship is possible in my life. It is something I desire. It is the home I have always searched for, and the greatest gift I can give away. Friendship is the life of Christ shining within me. Now I must decide, will I take the risk?

Amy is a missionary from Derwent, Alberta, Canada. She enjoys music, old films, and walking in the rain.

5 Ways to Support Someone Who’s Suffering

As a Christ in the City missionary, you meet suffering head-on constantly. While it’s never easy, the impact of the blow is lessened a bit in the sense that you can expect it. What happens though, when you encounter suffering when you’re not in “missionary mode”? When you suddenly encounter suffering via the person flying a sign at the street corner, the cashier at the grocery store, or someone at work… what happens then? Though there’s no hard and fast formula, my time with Christ in the City as a missionary has taught me 5 things that I think it’s important to keep in mind:

  1. Everyone is facing a battleMy time on the streets as a missionary was a continually humbling experience. While I thought I had a gauge on what led a person into homelessness, I was time and time again surprised once I heard their story. The same is true of every person. You don’t know why that person is flying a sign on the street corner, why that cashier was rude to you, or what is going on in your co-worker’s life that lies underneath their curt email. What you do know is that every person, no matter how seemingly great or small, is carrying a cross.
  2. Remember that everyone is pursuing what they believe to be good. The desire for goodness is written on the human heart. The majority of things that humans do are done because they believe them to be good.
  3. Realize that bad behaviors are a coping mechanism. In my psychological studies, I was taught that everything that the person does when they are alone is a means of coping. Think about it, everyone is either addicted or strongly habituated to something – coffee, sugar, texting, social media, or exercise, just to name a few. We do or consume these things to help us cope with the daily demands of life. The same is true of explicitly bad habits – alcoholism, drugs, marijuana, etc. They are used as a means of coping. Rather than judging the act, know that there is a reason behind the act and seek to empathize with it.
  4. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries. If you’re anything like me, you see suffering, and your first reaction is to go into fix-it mode. Do not take on another person’s problems or suffering as your own. We are called to accompany others in their struggles and help shoulder their crosses, not completely remove them. We are actually doing that person a disservice if we try to.
  5. Ask God for help. God has such a beautiful and infinite love for each and every one of us. Being present to suffering is hard and uncomfortable. When you feel yourself fall short, ask God to fill your heart with His love for that person. Trust that he will give you the wisdom in that moment to know what to say or what to do.

We are all called to see Christ in others as well as be witnesses of Him in return. Nowhere else is Christ as present as in the midst of suffering. Don’t run from it or wish it away. Rather, with the guidance of these 5 tips gained through continual encounters with it, you will be more equipped to embrace it when it inevitably comes your way.

Abby is from St. Paul, MN. She served with Christ in the City from 2012-2015, both as a missionary and on staff. She is currently a student of Divine Mercy University and will graduate in May 2019 with an M.S. in Counseling. She enjoys writing, traveling, and spending time with her family, especially her 7 nieces and nephews.

Two Weeks Unplugged

I had just arrived in Denver to serve as a year-long missionary with Christ in the City. It was the first time I had ever lived anywhere other than Lincoln, Nebraska. Denver was a new city, new people, and a new place to try to make home. I was excited, but a little anxious about leaving comfort and familiarity behind me.

We were told that the missionaries would have a technology fast for the first few weeks of our time together. I was worried at first because it wouldn’t allow me the luxury of talking to my friends and family back home and I was already experiencing plenty of new things without them.

It was definitely a challenge, but by the end of the technology fast I was extremely grateful for it. It allowed our community to really come together and be available to each other. Because we had no devices to turn to, we quickly learned to turn to each other during both the joyous and hard moments of those first few weeks. 

It not only gave us missionaries the freedom to be present with one another and take a break from social media, but also to cultivate relationships back home in a new way. During my time on the technology fast I was able to send and receive letters from so many people I care about: my parents, neighbors, high school and college friends, and even students who came to CIC for mission trips.

We often think if we can’t “like” someone’s Instagram post or send them a text letting them know we are thinking of them, it invalidates how much we care for the person or the friendship means less. I realized during the tech fast that distancing myself from constant connection, whether through Facebook or Facetime, made my conversations intentional and more fruitful when I was able to talk with someone I cared about. Even though many miles separate me from my friends back home, it has been beautiful to experience how those relationships have actually grown.

I still try to limit my time on my phone throughout the week to make sure I am present to my community and to the mission we have. This does not mean I don’t miss people or that I love them any less. It means God has called me to be able to fully know and fully love the people He is placing before me. Answering this call to love and be present to this community has given me the great joy of better loving those that are farther away and allowing myself to be loved by them in a new way.

Emma is a missionary from Lincoln, NE. She enjoys reading, playing soccer, and flossing twice a day (not the dance move).