You may recognize Austin in a Sunday gathering by his hearty laugh or maybe you've seen him perform a spoken word piece at the Open Floor in the U District. Perhaps he's invited you to go biking, play frisbee or even to get to know our homeless neighbors with him. What you may not know is where his passion for the "fellow beggar" comes from. So we asked him, and here is what he had to say.
These days, I serve on the Justice and Mercy Ministry Team at The Hallows Church, and it is one of the most rewarding opportunities God has given me. One of our guiding passages for this ministry comes from Isaiah 58:10-11, which says "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 as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." I really like this passage. Coupled with Proverbs 11:25, which says "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered," there is a great picture of how it is a blessing to be a blessing.
A lot of people know me for my laugh, and I'd bet some wonder where it comes from... to that, I'd claim the rich, hearty, deep laugh I've been blessed with is something that can only come when your gloom is as the noonday, you have the Lord as your steadfast guide, and you are well watered. I think of Jesus through these passages in how He poured Himself out on the cross and then rose from the grave, lighting the darkened world with hope for all of us who are "hungry" and afflicted in order to give us the love, forgiveness, and new life we all desire in this world scorched by sin, and it brings some of that new life to my heart in the form of joy when I think about how God has worked, is working, and wonder about how He will continue to work in my own heart.
The truth is, I used to be much more hard-hearted towards the homeless. I don't think the way I felt is unusual - looking straight ahead to avoid eye contact, not wanting to think about the person sitting on the sidewalk or holding a sign at the intersection, disgusted by the smoke, soot, smells, sores, and slang that accompany homelessness, and even afraid at times, too. The last thing I wanted to do was stop and help them. Part of it was feeling powerless and a lot of it was because I didn't want to be near people who were so dirty, gross, unclean. But there was a point where one of the guys in the small group at my old church got us signed up to serve as extra hands at the U-District YMCA's weekly teen feed, where a free lunch is prepared and given to the homeless youth of the area. I somehow ended up going to serve alongside him and our leader.
Over time, as I stood behind the table spreading another dab of mayo on a sandwich to get it just the way someone liked it, asking if he/she wanted a little more salad, and making small talk as people signed in, my heart started changing. To serve these people, I had to look them in the eyes and acknowledge their humanity. Once I did that, I started to see myself in them: that they, just like me or anyone else, want love, forgiveness, and new life.
Looking back, I think of Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes"... I think that in those moments, God was giving me eyes to see as He does, and in doing so "crucified" my haughty heart and "raised" it with gratitude and a desire to serve. I realized that, apart from Jesus' forgiveness on the cross, I too am spiritually homeless. And yet, despite all my shortcomings and wretchedness, the Lord chose to see past it all and take mercy on me by forgiving me and making me new. I also realized that I too wandered about aimlessly, "homeless", before the Lord welcomed me into my Home in Heaven... Once you're given eyes like that - to see your own brokenness and desperate need for redemption in the afflicted right before you, and to remember how the Lord of all Creation stepped down from His throne to answer your cries by pouring Himself out for you and rising from the dead, your hardened heart cannot help but break with love for these fellow beggars. Scripture says in 1 John 4:19 that "We love because he first loved us." I think this is quite apt in describing my change of heart towards the homeless.
In the few years since those victories were claimed by the Lord in my heart, He has dramatically changed me. These days, He sends me to sit on the concrete to eat lunch with the homeless of Seattle, build relationships with them, and be available to serve them similar to how Jesus did when He was here on Earth. He gives me joy and thankfulness to be given His eyes and see potential in these men and women rather than only failure. He guides me and gives me wisdom (James 1:5) in how I can best serve the needy, and constantly teaches me through my friends on the streets. I sometimes stop with wonder at how God could have chosen to entrust someone such as me with such work, and those are moments where I feel humbled and overcome with gratitude. I am definitely not perfect, but that's why He reminds me to put my trust in His ability and not my own!
If there's anyone else out there who struggles with hardness of heart towards the homeless, I hope that this small piece of God's redemptive story helps inspire you to see that change is possible, and that it is possible to find joy in being a funnel for pouring out God's grace on the hungry and the afflicted similar to how Jesus did for all of us (Hebrews 12:2). If you're interested in stepping out to be part of redemptive change both for yourself, us, and those who wander the streets of Seattle, please don't hesitate to reach out! Our city needs all the help it can get in this department, and the Justice and Mercy team would love to have you join us as we seek to join God and our neighbors in being tools to further God's Kingdom here on the streets of Seattle.