My Dear Friends,
When is the last time you thanked God for a place to sleep? Individuals denied the right to sleep have a tenfold higher risk of developing depression. By the time many of the sleep deprived homeless get to New Life Evangelistic Center thoughts of suicide have increased. In one large U.S. National Survey individuals who were sleep deprived were nine times more likely to have planned suicide and 7.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide.
What would be your reaction if you saw the police grab a plate of food from a homeless woman
who had not eaten for days? I believe you would be shocked and angered over such an action. Yet out of the three basic components of a healthy lifestyle: food (nutrition), physical fitness and sleep, it is a lack of sleep that leads most rapidly to serious consequences.
Just ask Donna what is like to be a homeless woman, who not having slept for three days, is asked to move on every time she tries to lie down or sit down for any period of time. Donna says, “Every time I found a place to rest I was asked to move somewhere else. At one point police threatened to arrest me and drove me to the Justice Center. They didn’t arrest me and give me a place to sleep; instead they put me back out and made me walk a long distance back to where I had been. I got so tired my head was spinning, and I felt I was going in circles.”
It is not fair to blame the police man for this problem. He is expected to follow orders to remove those who appear to be loitering or sleeping. As the state cuts back mental health, alcohol and drug treatment programs and other services assisting those in need it is the policeman who is then called on to alleviate problems resulting from such cut backs.
With 3 in 10 young adults now having moved back with their parents because they can’t afford to live on their own, along with mortgage foreclosures, community pressure to close shelters like NLEC, and the ongoing destruction of affordable housing, etc., more and more people are trying to find a place to sleep. As they become increasingly sleep deprived and desperate, erratic personal actions take place and the police get involved. The end result is sleeping at the city jail at the cost of over $76 to tax payers per day.
New Life Evangelistic Center’s desire to serve Jesus, and Jesus alone, has enabled it to continue to welcome anyone who found themselves in need of shelter, while other agencies controlled by government interests and funding turned them away. This trust in God’s ability to provide for New Life’s daily needs kept it from being controlled by special interests which would have silenced it by cutting off the funding once New Life spoke out against the injustices in the local community.
Isaiah 58:6, 7 makes it clear that the provision of food, clothing, and shelter is a function of fasting and worship. In those two verses God declares, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
During the past few years I have witnessed local governments place increasing restrictions on churches, faith based organizations, and others who want “to provide the poor wanderer with shelter.” In Springfield, Missouri I observed legislation passed that required shelters to be located three quarters of a mile away from each other. Cities like Bellville, IL put such unreasonable requirements on over night shelters that the Salvation Army closed its shelter in that community.
Municipalities throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County along with other cities throughout the Bi-state area have all but outlawed shelters, as local police departments proceed to threaten the homeless people that they find with arrest. Those who aren’t threatened are often referred to New Life Evangelistic Center at 1411 Locust in St. Louis.
New Life, by obeying the scriptures and giving the homeless a place to sleep and the hungry food to eat in accordance with Matt. 25: 31-46, welcomes the homeless sent by the police, the hospitals, the churches and a host of others. NLEC continues to expand its services as the county and city homeless hotline refers more and more people to New Life for help as a result of other shelters in the bi-state area being full. This provision of services includes an expansion of the New Life’s on the job training programs and all night shelter programs.
As we challenge the local governments we remind churches everywhere to open their doors to homeless strangers and follow the mandates of scriptures like that found in Hebrews 13:2 where it says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is a result of the grace of God, extended to sinful human beings through Jesus Christ. At the same time the word of God makes it clear that those who have received this grace will desire to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry and care for the sick and imprisoned. For that reason we see Jesus telling us in Matt 25:34-46 that the saved are those who are caring for the poor and homeless. They will not sell out to political power brokers who say that the provision of emergency shelter is a thing of the past.
The Old Testament tells believers that providing for the poor and homeless is an essential mark of godliness. Micah 6:8 says, “It has showed you, o’ man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” To “act justly” and “love mercy” means to be kind to the homeless and oppressed, providing for them the necessary resources to live. That clearly involves a place to sleep.
This is not only an Old Testament teaching. Jesus made it clear in the story of the Good Samaritan that one can’t say they have a sincere love for God and then leave the homeless, hurting, and wounded on the road of life. The scriptures make it absolutely clear that doing justice and mercy for the homeless is a clear sign that someone has justifying grace and faith at work in their life.
Students of the scriptures will also see another version of the teaching given in Matt 25:34-46 and in the book of James. There in chapter 2 verses 14-18 we read, “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish upon you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith: I have deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
In light of these and other biblical mandates we clearly see that giving people a place to sleep is a function of worship. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but he the son of man had nowhere to lay his head.” Did he not declare, “That as often as you have done it to the least of these even so you have done it unto me.”?
Just as we should not let neighborhood organizations and city halls along with their police departments stop us from praying, we should also not let our fears keep our church doors locked when it comes to giving the homeless a place to sleep. This causes the prayers we say, to go unanswered as we are told in Proverbs 21:13, “If a person shuts their ears to the cry of the poor, they too will cry out and will not be answered.”
Isaiah 1:13-17 is just one more of the many scriptures that not only speak of how our prayers are affected by our response to the poor and homeless, but explains our biblical obligations to see justice done as we provide a place for people to sleep. “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and Convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
At New Life Evangelistic Center we know that if a homeless mother is not given a place to sleep, her children can be taken from her and placed in foster care. We know that if women are left without shelter more of them could die like Anna Brown and Robin Robel.
The homeless are not nameless, faceless statistics to us at New Life. They are flesh and blood. Human beings that are sent to us daily by the local hospitals, police departments, churches and the regional homeless service hotline when it can’t find shelter for the caller anywhere else.
Many of those who need a place to sleep are the elderly and handicapped, like Albert and Mary; veterans without homes like Ray and Eugene. Each has a name and a personal story of tragedy that thrust them into the ranks of the homeless.
Condominium owners near the 1411 Locust Street shelter are blaming the homeless for loitering and problems in the general neighborhood to the extent that they petitioned the city board of public safety to remove NLEC’s hotel permit. Their discrimination is obvious since they took no similar action concerning the problems that the bars on Washington and 15th Street are causing when the crowds leave their establishments at closing time. It still remains to be seen, how the homeless can loiter on sidewalks that have been barricaded for months, around the shelter they stay at.
With each passing day almost everything the homeless person does is considered illegal. They can’t sit or stand anywhere for any period of time because new city laws define it as loitering. Lucas Park is open for dogs but not the homeless. They can’t take their bags into the library; lay down in the parks or on the sidewalks. Herded from place to place like cattle, sleep deprivation can set in producing anger, frustration and in the cases of some, jail.
Putting the homeless in jail is the only emergency shelter provided by most of the municipalities in mid America. This inhumane behavior, jailing people because they have no other place to sleep, cost taxpayers much more than the provision of shelter would be.
Those that are calling the homeless services hotline, only to be told that all shelters are full, know that it is a lie when St. Louis County and City officials say there is adequate shelter space and New Life’s services are not needed. As Thomas Paine, during the revolutionary war wrote in his work entitled, Common Sense, “These are times that try men’s souls, which require more than summer soldiers or sunshine patriots.”
The city of St. Louis continues to violate the 1985 court order, which requires it to provide shelter and other emergency services to the homeless. At the same time it pressures New Life to do what the Salvation Army has done and stop providing emergency shelter for the homeless.
I know the battle is the Lord’s. But now as ambassadors of Jesus Christ we must fight not with the weapons of this world but with faith, prayer, the authority of the scripture, and the 1st amendment of the United States Constitution. We must allow none to tell us that we cannot preach, practice, and perform what the scriptures command.
As servants of our Lord Jesus Christ we must fight those who try to stop us from performing the function of worship which is sheltering the homeless. We must fight them in the courts, in the public media, in our churches, and anywhere else the tyranny of a few try to tell us how to practice our religion as a community of faith. For us to do otherwise would be nothing less than for us to renounce Jesus Christ in word and deed.
There can be no compromise with sin. The scriptures clearly teach that it is sinful for the greed of a few to remove the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, whether it is a place to sleep at night, or to sit during the day. There can be no compromise when it comes to performing the function of worship which includes sheltering the homeless. Jesus, by identifying himself with the homeless and the hurting, made that perfectly clear when he said, “As often as you have done it to the least of these even so you have done it to me.”
What about those of you who have a home but are not sleeping adequately? You know your lack of sleep is keeping you from doing all that God has called you to do, so what can you do to get a better night sleep? First, meditate on Isaiah 26:3 where it says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” By committing all of your worries unto the Lord and putting your mind upon Him you will experience the peace of God. If after sleeping a few hours you wake up instead of just lying in bed, get up and pray and read your Bible until you start feeling sleepy and then return to bed. As you exercise faith in the fact that God has everything under control and surrender to Him, you will see your sleep improve.
It is faith, which enables us to awaken not only to God’s presence but also His eternal promises. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). For that reason I must daily read and abide in the Scriptures. It is faith in Christ that causes me to hear His voice, follow Him, and receive His daily provision. Jesus explains in John 10:27, 28, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
Wow what a promise! “Therefore, my dear brothers (and sisters), stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Cor. 15:58).
I have seen God’s faithfulness and now I can further encourage His saints who are fighting for the rights of those needing a place to sleep that their labor in the Lord is not in vain. Prayer and the power of God’s word enable me to encourage veterans who have served our country and now find themselves homeless to stand firm and let nothing move them. The reason for doing this is because the scriptures tell us, “you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Now I want to tell everyone to stand firm, be bold, be courageous because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Remember standing firm involves as I Cor. 15:58 says: 1. Let nothing move you. 2. Always giving yourself to the work of the Lord. 3. Knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
By God’s grace you can stand firm no matter how hopeless the situation may be. Remember you are not alone. God plus one (you when you are in His will) is a majority. 2 Peter 1:3-8 tells us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God has given us what we need to stand firm as we fight for the right for everyone to have a place to sleep. So as we face the future may we stand firm in God through our Lord Jesus Christ and let His love flow through us daily in order that we may indeed be effective and productive in the work of the Lord.
Yours in Christ,