Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Era (02/03/11)
TITLE: Feed the hungry
By Gregory Kane
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An hour or so later, I shove twice discarded clothes into black plastic bags and squeeze them into the back of the minibus. Between 30 and 40 of the homeless have turned up tonight to polish off our sandwiches, guzzle our tea and coffee, and inspect our latest collection of donated shirts, trousers and dresses. We don't just feed the geese— to borrow a much disparaged expression from the world of airline stewards— we shake hands and bare our hearts, we lend a listening ear and offer a few words of practical advice. And then, once all of the material incentives have been exhausted, we announce that we're ready to commence our Sunday night service.
I look with pleasure at the eight souls who have opted to stay on. Together we sing a hymn of celebration to the God who made each one of us. Afterwards one of our team members preaches a mini-sermon, speaking words of life in the vernacular of the streets. Another song, a few prayers and we're done. Week by week we're seeing a spiritual awakening in the lives of certain individuals. At one level we're merely following the exhortation in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, befriend the stranger. But beyond this we long to see our friends embrace the grace that transforms all of life.
Such scenes linger at the fringes of my memory as if they took place only yesterday. The reality is that some twenty years have passed since I last ministered to the homeless. I moved away from Manchester and God called me to serve him in other ways: to reach out to children and youth; to bring a word of consolation to migrants from other lands. That's why it feels so odd to be standing here waiting for the doors to open and the flood to be unleashed. Tables and chairs have been set out, trays stacked, hot water brought to the boil. We have chatted amongst ourselves, downed a cup of tea and asked someone to lead in prayer. As the clock clicks round to one, we're ready and waiting.
A sea of unfamiliar faces bursts in like a rip tide, surges past the refreshments table, drains every last cup of coffee and snatches away every proffered biscuit, before coming to an expectant rest beside empty tables. Carrying two trays at a time, we serve these men as though they were landed gentry in some fine restaurant. In all we minister to eighty souls: mostly men; a few women; one elderly Asian man and a younger Muslim woman, who insists on the vegetarian option. Some are drinkers, some on drugs, some suffer from mental illness, some are just lonely and come for the company. We take no notice of their situation in life, state of dress, or even stench. Every one receives a warm meal and an offer of friendship.
Twenty years have slipped by since I last did this. I expect to feel quite comfortable but I don't. Perhaps it's because all this is taking place in broad daylight. Maybe because something sticks in my craw at the way the volunteers don disposable gloves so that they don't actually have to touch the homeless. Or perhaps it's the sight of the smart young man in a snazzy shell suit who saunters in while chatting away on a pricey cell phone. Whatever the cause, something has changed in me. I can't fall back on familiar experiences of the past. This is a new day, a new era. And somehow I have to learn afresh how to minister Christ to those in such desperate need.
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