They filtered in slowly, mostly one by one. Loners, carrying their backpacks or bags. There were a few who came with a friend, but most entered the room alone. A wave and smile or nod of greeting between some, for they know each other. They see each other every day. On the streets. Their home. The community of the homeless.
They eventually packed out the room, an estimated 140 in attendance. Mostly men, a few women. The church service comes first, with singing and a message, then the meal. We, eight of us from our home Bible study group and a couple of other groups from our church, were there to serve the food, clean up and otherwise help as assigned. The men’s ministry from our church did the cooking.
FLOOD* hosts these worship service/meal events, called Community Celebrations, for the homeless each Saturday and has done so for several years. They have been perfecting their system for these Community Celebrations and it runs quite well. Compassion mixed with wisdom.
Karri and her husband and kids, also from our church opened the service with singing. She, with her strong mezzo-soprano, is the lead vocalist; her young daughter sings harmony and husband, Adam, plays guitar and sings. Their older son manned the audio-visual system (what a talented family!).
The songs were familiar; we sing them in church frequently. But somehow, sitting in the back of the room, seeing all these men and women singing, some raising hands, others standing in worship when the rest of us are sitting, stirred my heart and I sang the old words with new awareness. Words of God’s love and forgiveness, of Jesus’ death and resurrection, of his power to make us new.
Broken, shattered, troubled lives in front of and around me, every person a different story. Stories wrapped in human flesh. For a few moments they find something real: the Presence of God. They sing songs of worship. More than for just a meal and a bag of groceries, though those are terribly important when you are hungry. I know there were brothers and sisters in Christ singing “the songs of Zion” with me in that room. And I thanked God, and prayed His blessings on them.
Then we served up their plates of food, serving Jesus in a strange disguise.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:34-40, NIV).
* www.floodbako.com, a ministry to the homeless of Bakersfield, which grew out of another home Bible study group from our church.
New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.