One can suppose that words like poverty, homelessness, or poor produces a preconceived notion, or idea. Pictures come to mind of dirty faces, drugs, body odor, or “uneducated lazy bums”. However, this writer happens to work at Cookeville Rescue Mission in Cookeville, TN, and can share (firsthand) that there really is not a stereotypical homeless person, but there can be stereotypical behaviors and general lack of life skills associated with poverty. Also, the reasons for homeless situations are as varied as the people who call on the services of the rescue mission.
Lizzy in the movie Homeless to Harvard (Mahoney, 2003), was basically raised in poverty. This was her condition, her life as she knew it. Eventually, however, something clicked in her heart and mind to cause her to change her condition and improve her outlook and overall life situation. This gives credence to one definition of poverty being that poverty is a mind-set and the overall use of the resources available to a person not a dollar amount (Devol, Payne, & Smith, 2006). Biblically, Romans 12:2 says to change our mind and not to think as the world thinks. Also, poverty is something learned. Numbers 14:18 says this, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation” (Holy Bible MEV italics added). This verse speaks of generational sin. Sins passed down and taught to the next generation. Even though, something learned can be unlearned (forgotten). Poverty is a mind-set that can be undone.
Mike Yankoski, in his book Under the Overpass (2010), a middle-class seminary student felt a nudge to experience firsthand the life of poverty through living homeless. Mike lived a life of privilege without want, a drastic contrast to Lizzy. This writer can speak to the authenticity of his story from experiences at Cookeville Rescue Mission. To better understand something or someone one must wear their shoes, or as Mike did sign up for a homeless internship. Mike became an invisible neighbor, a discarded soul, forgotten and alone. Through Mike’s experiences he became an advocate for the homeless and poor shining a light on a condition the Bible promises to be around until the end, “For the poor will never cease from being in the land. Therefore, I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:11 MEV).
As the hands and feet of Jesus, we must open wide the gospel message of Jesus Christ, teach, and live it out before the impoverished and show that there is the possibility of a more abundant physical and spiritual life.
“Your only hope is outside of you, outside of your situation. Only Christ can set you free. Let His power work in you. Otherwise, your best attempts will leave you right where you started.” -Mike Yankoski- “Under the Overpass”
Devol, P. E., Payne, R. K., & Smith, T. D. (2006). Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities Training Supplement. Highlands, TX: aha! Process Inc.
Keith-Lucas, A. (1985). So You Want to Be a Social Worker: A Primer for the Christian Student. St. Davids, PA: North American Association of Christians in Social Work.
Mahoney, M. (Producer), Kern, R. (Writer), & Levin, P. (Director). (2003). Homeless to Harvard [Motion Picture]. U.S.A.: Warner Home Video.
Segal, E. A., Gerdes, K. E., & Steiner, S. (2016). An Introduction to the Profession of Social Work (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Cenage Learning.
Yankoski, M. (2010). Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books.