“Thanks for feeding us.” I knew she was grateful. I could see it in her smile. Her plate was loaded down with food; fried Chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and a whole mess of desserts. I smiled knowing that this poor woman, had very little else to smile about, but in that moment she was happy. Still something about her statement bothered me.
When we started gathering on Saturday nights downtown Chattanooga, we would make bag lunches and hand them out to anyone who was hungry or needing food. But something didn’t seem right about that. It felt staged, unnatural, uncomfortable to have them stand in a line and wait for someone to hand them some food, while the rest of us “do-gooders” stood around smiling with cheesy grins. So we changed it up. We decided to get in line with them. To take a plate and sit down at a table with them and actually share a meal.
Its a crazy thought, I know, that white, middle class, transplants from suburbia would actually consider sitting at a table with a smelly, drunk, dirty, no teeth, poor or homeless person. To be honest, it was hard. What do we talk about? Can I eat and still stand the smell? It wasn’t easy, but it was right. I can honestly say it changed my life.
I began to realize that these people are people too. They aren’t children that we are trying to hurry through a cafeteria line. They aren’t cattle that we throw some food at, and then leave them alone. They are people. With stories to tell. With the ability to have normal conversation. You know what was the most revolutionary discovery? They are just like me, its their circumstances that are different.
You know what was really cool? They noticed. “We like coming here, because you treat us like real people. You’re part of our lives,” that’s what one lady said. They saw that we aren’t afraid of them. They we were willing to get dirty in the process of doing life together.
Scripture records a couple of instances where Jesus “fed” the multitudes with fish and bread. But Scripture also records multiple times where Jesus “ate with” people very different from Him. I think He was setting an example for us in how we are to share the love of the Father with the sinner, the poor, the homeless person, or the addict. We sit with them. We talk to them, not about them. We eat with them, we don’t just feed them.
One lady today showed me a list of feeding opportunities for the poor and homeless in our city. Someone is serving a meal, every meal, every day of the week in our city. For Christians, its fashionable. It’s the thing to do. It feels good. Its truly an experience that every Christ follower should have. But would you allow me to challenge you with this one request? The next time you go to feed the poor or homeless in your city, DON’T.
Don’t feed the poor, eat WITH them. I promise it will change your life as much as it may just change theirs.
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