When the holiday season rolls around, many of us cherish the time we get to spend with our family and friends. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the season with busy travel schedules and chaotic last-minute shopping trips, the holidays can be a lot more stressful than they need to be. Instead of getting overwhelmed with what gifts to buy, spend some time thinking about how you can give back to those who may not have the same luxuries as you.
The holidays are a big season for people who want to give back, especially when it comes to ministering to individuals experiencing homelessness. This is the perfect season to serve alongside your family. After all, giving back is a great way to spread the Good News of the Gospel.
What is Homelessness?
I firmly believe that every person, no matter their circumstances, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I also believe that a person is not defined by where they live. Homelessness, at its roots, at its heart, is an issue of brokenness.
This community is one of the most misunderstood and marginalized. There is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Most often, homelessness is a generational cycle. These men, women, and children have been broken down by drug and alcohol addiction, poverty, mental health, domestic violence, destructive relationships, death of loved ones, neglect and abandonment.
There will always be people who, as a result of their own actions, or actions that are out of their control, find themselves in dire economic instability and wind up without a home. Homelessness affects a wide variety of people and is most often not just what you see on the streets or the fear-based stories you hear in the media. It may come in the form of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet and has to make the impossible decision between feeding her children or putting a roof over their head. It may be the young man or old man who has just been released from jail looking to become a productive member of society but can’t find a sustainable job. It may be the first-generation college student who wants to better their life through higher education but can’t afford even a shared dorm room. Many of these fellow humans sleep in their cars or choose to couch surf.
There is a lot of social shame that comes along with someone who is experiencing homelessness. Our materialistic, appearance-oriented culture makes them feel lesser than. But every single one of them wants the same thing we desire – to be loved and understood.
What Does The Bible Say About Helping the Homeless?
If Jesus were to walk the earth today, He would definitely be spending time with the homeless. Jesus didn’t shy away from ministering to these individuals and He calls us to follow His lead. He does not forsake them. Jesus seeks out the least, the last and the lost. He is in the business of bringing hope and redemption to those who need it most.
God works in us and through us to help our neighbors in need. What we can do is surround them with a safe, loving, compassionate community. There takes some creativity and thoughtfulness in ways that we can engage. God wants to use you to bring restorative love, grace, and compassion to individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness.
The Bible is clear: it is expected that we will take care of the needy and poor among us. As Christians, we absolutely need to do what we can to take care of those who are poor or in need. We are called to actively seek out the least, the last and the lost to share the Gospel.
Isaiah 58:7: Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Luke 14:13-14: But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Leviticus 25:35-36: If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.
Proverbs 22:9: Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.
Psalm 82:3: Give justice to the week and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Proverbs 14:31: Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Matthew 25:35-36: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
Isaiah 58:10: If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be s as the
Luke 3:11: And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Proverbs 31:8-9: Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Deuteronomy 15:11: For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.
**Verses used in this post were taken from the English Standard Version.
How to Help the Homeless
It is pretty easy to see a person suffering from homelessness and do absolutely nothing. We oftentimes feel uncomfortable, or sad, or even overwhelmed or underprepared on what to do or how to engage. Sometimes we just need some ideas on how to interact or relate so that we can get outside of our own heads too free us to focus on serving others.
Volunteer at a local nonprofit
There are many nonprofits in your local community who help the poor and underprivileged. Many of them offer opportunities for individuals from the community to volunteer to help with special projects, serving food, or throwing events. This is especially true around the holiday season. Volunteering can also offer a more structured, less overwhelming starting point for many people as they look to become involved.
As a personal suggestion, I recommend trying to get a group of friends or family to be involved together with volunteering. It’s quality time you spend together while making a difference in the local community. For the past couple of years, my family and I have been preparing food and serving lunch at a homeless shelter on Christmas morning. It is one of my favorite memories of spending time together because we are all there not for ourselves but to shine hope to others together.
Note of caution: As you consider serving during the holidays, please be mindful that this is an especially popular time for volunteering at nonprofits. Many will have shifts that you can and should sign up for ahead of time. And if the holidays don’t work for you to be able to volunteer, remember that there are plenty of ways that you can serve the community throughout the year as well.
Engage in Conversation
Volunteering is one of the best ways to build relationships with your local community because most of the time it puts you in direct contact with those less fortunate in your community. It allows you to develop empathy and understanding as you build relationships and realize these are people just like you. When you engage in conversation with people in need, you create a special bond with them. The chronically homeless often become unknown and left to the wayside. They become separated and shunned from society. These individuals do not have the support system of family or friends like a lot of us do. Kind words mean a lot more than a meal, and a meal means more with kind words.
Give more practical items in lieu of money, including hygiene kits, staple foods, bottled water and a pair of socks. Gift cards to local fast-food restaurants can be a good alternative to money. During the cold winter months, socks, jackets, and blankets are always needed. You taking the time to show love and compassion means a lot more than simply handing out money.
Spend Time in Prayer
Meeting one’s physical needs is important, but meeting one’s spiritual needs is vital. Take a minute in your conversation with someone in need to ask how you can pray for them. Let them know that not only do you care about them, but the creator of the universe individually made them and wants to speak with them.
Additionally, individually spend time praying and listening for God’s guidance in how He wants to use you in His mission. Prayer is something that you can do with the whole family. Take turns praying for the needs that come to mind, such as food, shelter, health, and openness to the Gospel. Pray for those who are in your area that are experiencing homelessness. Pray for their hearts and their souls. Pray that God would give you direction on how you might engage. Ask God to place the opportunity on your heart to serve the homeless so you can do His work.
I wish you an amazing holiday season filled with joy and laughter. And always remember why we celebrate the season in the first place.