The Lord said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
~ Joshua 1:5
For nearly six years of my life I pastored a church that predominately served the homeless in a part of Houston that had a large number of homeless teens and young adults. The average age of the congregation was 27. Many of the members struggled with addiction, mental illness, or issues at home that brought them to the streets to seek a different life.
I quickly learned that providing options was essentially the mission of the church. Many of these folks often felt abandoned, especially by God. I quickly understood why. Each of them carried stories of shame, hurt, loss, and often, pain.
I would spend hours on the street, under bridges, at soup kitchens, and some places that were often very dark, where shadows would retreat during the light of day.
Some days I even found myself feeling abandoned while seeking help from others, and trying to share their stories in a way that would cause people to see these folks and try to make a difference.
One evening one of the kids said, "Since you can't take me to your meetings, then at least take my shadow."
I bought a roll of paper, and for the next three months I would exchange a bus token for the chance to draw the person's outline onto the paper, taking note of their birth name, their street name, how many years they lived on the street, and what caused them to be homeless.
I took a roll of shadows to Portland one summer during the General Assembly of my faith tradition and rolled out 167 shadows onto the assembly floor and watched.
I soon discovered that the folks at the assembly reacted to the shadows the same way that people reacted to the actual people on the street.
Some people stopped, read the information, and stood there. Some didn't notice them and walked right over them. Some would turn away, realizing what they were, and go a different direction.
To me, it was a powerful witness to what these folks experience each day. I left the assembly feeling many things, but mostly, a determination to make a difference.
About two years later, after the shadows had made journeys from one end of the country to another, and they were beginning to resemble the actual people that were torn and tattered, one of the kids asked me, "So, are you tired of exploiting those of us in the shadows, and are you ready to simply stop and hold our hands?"
I hadn't realized that my effort to bring awareness of others to the problem facing those living the life in the shadows was overwhelming my ability to be present for those I had been called to care for. While I thought I was doing what was best for the faith community, they were feeling abandoned again by another person. I was being reminded that they knew that God was present, but that I also needed to be reminded that I was being asked to be present as well.
While Joshua was being reminded that God would be with him as he took the Hebrew people into the Promised Land, our need to hear these words are still needed today, in all kinds of circumstances.
For people both living in the shadows and the light. For daily life experiences, no matter how mundane. There is the need for each of us as we begin each day to hear that God will be with us, as well as, at the end as we seek rest.
Even when we may feel as if we are only a shadow, God is still with us.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.