Last Saturday was a sunny, but cold and blustery day. You noticed the bite because of the wind. Three weeks prior, I'd sent out an invitation to imagine's supporters and friends giving them the opportunity to donate so we could buy a bag or two to hand out to homeless men and women on the street. We figured they'd be between $20-25 per bag. The folks generously sent nearly $1000!
We had different bags for men and women. Each was chock-full of things such as:
- gift cards for food and phone calls, appointment books (recommended by the Interfaith Shelter),
- gloves, scarves, t-shirts, and socks, hand sanitizer,
- washcloths, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, brushes, hairspray, Blistex, body lotion, hand wipes,
- nail clippers, Kleenex, razors, appointment books (recommended by the Interfaith Shelter),
Before we went out we paired up into 5 teams, figured out who was going to go where, and prayed for God's favor to lead us to people who could really use what we had to give. We also wanted to delight them as a measure of the gracious and unexpected love of God.
As we were putting the bags together some of us noted that due to the wind and cold, it appeared there weren't many homeless out. I noticed none of the folks I routinely see and talk to were in their usual spots. Drat! We really wanted to give away all the bags we had.
So out the door we went. Tricia and I headed west up Main Street. We encountered a Vet in a wheelchair who collects money for other Vets. He's friendly and talkative. We approached him and said "this is for you. Merry Christmas (You got it. We didn't say "happy holidays"). We handed him a blanket too. His eyes were wide open with surprise and he started to cry. I asked him his name and told him God loves him and he responded that God loves me too. He asked if he could give it to someone more needy and we agreed. He is a generous man and cares for homeless folks even though he's in a wheelchair. I've seem him do it.
We moved on and gave one to Daniel, a street musician who "works hard for the money." He's out there playing guitar and singing no matter the cold, heat or precipitation. He smiled, nodded his head in thanks and said "God bless you," before picking up the tune where he'd left off.
We crossed Main Street and saw a young man sitting with a guitar in front of one of the candy stores in town. I walked up to him and repeated what I'd said to the first two. He was completely surprised and said "For me?" He seemed a little shell-shocked and thanked me as well. Later, he'd find us, give it back and ask us to give it to someone more needy as he was not homeless. His honesty was refreshing. In the next half hour, we encountered 5 more men, but no women. By then, the word was getting around that someone was handing out stuff and to be on the lookout. They were.
The entire walkabout and search for people took about an hour, I think. People were heading back to imagine because we were going to have lunch together after the Giveaway. We were all chilled, but felt pretty good we'd been able to hand out 24 of the 36 bags even though the "regulars" weren't around at all. In the days since, Tricia and I've found a few of them and given them blankets and bags. Some of the folks we usually see still aren't on the street. If we can't before next Wednesday, we will give them to the Northampton Interfaith Shelter. One way or the other, they'll get to people who need them.
As I think about our first try at this, I realize we had little idea what to expect: How would people respond? Would we insult anyone by assuming they were homeless and try to give them a bag? Would we hesitate or would it feel awkward all of us parading around with gift bags full of stuff and blankets under our arms? We stood out after awhile. As I said, the word got around and fast.
In the end, I think we experienced doing another "let's see what happens" team event again, and are learning about the people in this town, who we are as imagine/Northampton, and how God is using us to gently build relationships with folks. We really are in still the learning phase of the mission and maybe will always be. We have few answers these days, but the mission is God's and he has us working it with him.
Also, gathering together over a meal, kids and all, and hanging out after is solidifying us as a community. We like being around each other and sharing this imagine/Northampton adventure as friends around Jesus, each in our own way. That day was a pleasure and a gift to us.
It remains a remarkable joy to me to give and see people be delighted, even moved. Kindness and generosity are lovely gestures of God's affection for people even far from him, or folks whose brokenness now defines all their days. Just being around God's kindness and generosity lifts my spirit. And Christmas is the perfect time to do this reflecting of God's love in giving his son to the world. Christmas should never be the only time for doing so, however.
In many ways, imagine/Northampton's Christmas Giveaway was a simple and small gesture that might not change anyone's
Lastly, seeing the imaginistas all bundled up and out on the street, in the wind and cold, trying to bless people was a happiness to me too. It feels like "this is what we're to be about:" giving, helping, blessing and recognizing people who may have made a frightful mess of things, or maybe have experienced setbacks and horrors which crushed their spirits. I don't know for sure, but I love seeing imagine/Northampton embracing such loving enterprise.
The Kingdom of God is revealed and present when we all do this sort of thing, whether spontaneously or planned. It's our task as Jesus-followers to carry his love to everyone so they might see him, even if its just something like a blanket or gift bag at Christmas time.
Father, give your people everywhere more more opportunity to do these kinds of things and infinitely more. Make us fully willing and able to follow through.