Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America is a book about two young men named Mike and Sam who decide to live on the streets of America for more than five months. They decide to do this because they want to know if their faith is as real as they say it is; if they can be the Christians they claim to be, the Christians that Jesus calls us to be. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (NIV). They wanted to completely rely on God for the provision of their next meal or their next place to stay.
On their journey, Mike and Sam experienced many things and got to meet amazing people that changed their lives forever. This post will focus more on the churches Sam and Mike visited and what their response was to a couple of homeless men in their congregation. It will also focus on what we as Christians are called to do when it comes to the issue of homelessness.
The book opens up to an all out brawl of homeless men in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. There were many flying fists and a lot of blood. This was just one thing that Sam and Mike had to worry about while on the streets. Not to mention hunger, infection, injury, and sickness.
“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.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:40-45 NIV). Many of these things describe homeless people. Things like hunger, thirst, needing of clothes, and taking care of those who are sick (not just physical sickness but spiritual as well). Jesus makes it pretty clear how we should treat those without food or drink or clothes; he tells us to love and care for them.
Sam and Mike were in Arizona and were journaling near a church when they saw men and women carrying dishes of food into the church. They wondered if they were having a Saturday service which happened to include food. While pondering this, a man walked up to them and told them they couldn’t be there and that they needed to leave. They didn’t understand why so they stayed and journaled for a few more minutes. Then the same man walked back up to them and yelled at them to leave. So they did, and went and got breakfast at a nearby restaurant. How could this man do this? He could obviously see that they were homeless and most likely hungry. And yet he yelled at Mike and Sam. How can we as Christians be taken seriously by non-believers if we don’t practice what we preach? Well God had a plan for this man who refused to do what Jesus commands us to do. The next day, Sunday, Sam and Mike went to the man’s church. They got many stares and no one sat within three pews of them. After the service as Mike and Sam were about to leave, they were approached by the man who had yelled at them the previous day. He walked up to them, gave them a big hug and begged for their forgiveness for what he had done the previous day. After Mike and Sam left, God humbled this man. He even went searching for them in his car to bring them back. Sam and Mike forgave him and all was good.
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 NIV)
One of my favorite quotes in the book is this, “If we are the body of Christ—and Christ came not for the healthy but the sick—we need to be fully present in the places where people are most broken. And it has to be more than just a financial presence. That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation—it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters.” And essentially I think this is true. We are willing to help someone unless it brings us out of our comfort zone. I think that this is the crux of the matter.
This reminds me of a popular Bible story. The one where Jesus heals the man with leprosy. Leprosy is a very serious and very contagious skin disease. In Jesus’ times people with leprosy were outcasts and considered “unclean”. This man probably hadn’t had any physical human contact in who knows how long. The fact that Jesus was willing to touch this man shows how loving Jesus was, is, and forever will be. Not only was the man healed, he was also forgiven and was shown love. It is that very love we need to reflect to others.
Thankfully, not all the churches Sam and Mike visited were like the one I described earlier. On one occasion, Sam and Mike were at a church and after service the congregation was invited to a pot luck. Having mainly only eaten 99 cent hamburgers from McDonald’s most of the journey, the young men seized the opportunity that was provided by God. An elderly woman saw them and was genuinely filled with joy to see them at the potluck, despite the way they looked and smelled. Sam and Mike recall not seeing her sit down and eat herself. She was kept busy by making sure that everyone else was being taken care of. It is this sort of servant attitude that we need to adopt. Matthew 20:26-28 says, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NIV). This woman took these verses into her heart and applied them to her daily life.
I feel like I could go on forever about this subject. But for now I will end with a very strong recommendation to read this book and a few more Bible verses.
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17 NIV)
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV)
In God’s grip,