Guest post from Jeremy Nicholls
Millions of ghosts wander helplessly throughout our mega cities, remaining invisible and ignored. People are lonely. People are lost. People are forgotten. People are alienated. The Kingdom of God calls us to open our eyes and love these distressed individuals that live among the masses. Opening our eyes requires us to use our spiritual imaginations to address the different needs we see and the different personalities we encounter. There is a wonderful array of talents that have been drastically forgotten and there are the addictions and struggles which torture and hold in bondage countless souls.
The ongoing question that lingers in my mind is: How do I use my spiritual imagination to embrace and love (that being the love shown in God’s Kingdom) these roaming ghosts?
The gospels show Jesus taking time to embrace the forgotten. He would not let the bleeding woman go unnoticed. In a step of undeniable faith, she touched the hem of his garment and was instantly healed. She was judged and deemed unclean, and was therefore considered a social reject. With a love that was so compassionate, Jesus called this woman to himself addressing her 12 years of devastating alienation by assuring the masses that she was now clean. Jesus continually stopped his busy schedule to focus and love the disenfranchised. Amongst the bustling crowds he found an individual and healed him or her completely and holistically! Jesus accepted the Samaritan woman at the well, when she was planning and expecting to be ignored. Kingdom love squashed that assumption. Jesus loved and showed compassion to Legion, Bartimaeus and many other people who suffered isolating infirmities. This love is kingdom love, agape love; a love which reaches beyond our social circles and steps into the shaky and risky ground of lepers and tax collectors.
We need to keep our eyes open. We need to see the destitution that lies stagnant around us. A neighbor may hardly get out of bed because he suffers from depression. A classmate may be ostracized because she is haunted with delusions or schizophrenia. A person at work may silently be a helpless victim of an abuser. A reclusive lady riddled with paranoia may be living in abandoned buildings. Every night, a teenager at church may be trying to escape his suicidal tendencies, by drowning his sorrows with a bottle of vodka. The scenarios are plentiful. In my life, the Ahmed’s and Dan’s (who I’ve previously written about) continually knock at my door, but there are many restless quiet souls wanting relief, yet they are unwilling, ashamed and far too frightened to knock. That is where we need to be! Reaching out, and with creative instinct, compassionately love them with a love flowing forth from God’s kingdom!
Daily, I would walk past this 66 year old man named Fred! He would be slouched on the corner smoking cigarettes, playing lottery cards and quietly greeting the crowds that wander by. Freddie, a very gentle caring man, has an unappealing look: he has one eye, rarely changes his stained clothes, never showers, fingers are colored yellow by his endless smoking and he is an incredibly skinny and small man. Freddie also refuses to ask for help and does not want to be a burden. As a result of being an invisible person, his appearance was rapidly deteriorating.
It was late 2007, the weather was starting to freeze and Freddie’s coloring looked awful, he was thinner than usual and seemed very sickly. Beth, a few JPUSA’s and I had noticed this decline. People would come to me and they expressed a lot of concern about his well being and his apparent homelessness. I had known him for years and he had always told me he stayed at friend’s house and that I needn’t worry about him. One November morning, as I walked to work, I couched beside Freddie and asked him about his housing situation. Surprisingly, Freddie admitted he was sleeping behind a local dollar-store; he was concerned the approaching winter and feared being a victim of pointless violence.
Freddie accepted my offer and I took him to a warm and sheltered bed. Many at Cornerstone knew him and accepted him with open arms into our little homeless community. Ahmed was so elated that he actually gave him new clothes!
Thankfully, Freddie did not freeze to death that winter, which could have been the case. Through active pursuit, much talking and case management we discovered that he was entitled a pension. This was money that he could have received when he turned 65! Today, Freddie lives in his own apartment in JPUSA’s senior program. He pays rent and is getting three meals a day. Though he still doesn’t like to shower or change his clothes, he look’s a lot healthier and is experiencing the radical affects of kingdom love.
Some of my homeless friends, along with Bernice from a local agency, kept telling me about this quiet guy called Aaron. They feared his well being and kept telling him to come see me. He had been homeless for over 15 years and had lost 6 toes due to frostbite. He slept on a local loading dock and tried to make a few dollars hobbling around the neighborhood collecting cans in a broken down rusty shopping cart.
One autumn day, Aaron nervously came up to see me in my office. He was only 41 years old, but I thought he was 65. He used a walking stick, had on multiple layers of clothes and desperately needed a shower. I was unable to house him that day, but I encouraged him to meet with me on a monthly basis. We met a couple of times and we exchanged a disjointed and mumbling dialogue about his sleepless nights. He spoke how he would continually pray he wouldn’t freeze to death. Mental illness probably accounts for his severe lack of motivation, yet I was proud of his effort to come and see me. We set a few goals in an effort to escape this life of bondage. He was desperate!
These encounters haunted me. I was praying! But the prayers a few of us were praying needed legs. Aaron needed caring people around him and a warm bed. The Lord laid this burden on me. Beth stayed at home praying, as Darrell and I ventured out into the cold night to seek and find him. We had numerous hot spots to hit, starting with the loading dock. We expected to be gone for hours. Yet, only two minutes later, we find him a single block away pushing his cart. We walk him to the shelter and give him a bed. We speak of a plan to better his circumstances.
Fellow homeless shelter residents greet Aaron with open arms. They are thanking God (and us) for bringing in Aaron. I get hugged repeatedly.
There is a joy in seeing a bed-less brother now having a bed.
A helpless brother now has help.
A hopeless brother now has hope.
A cold and weary brother now has warmth and rest.
A lonely brother now has a bunch of guys giving him the beautiful reality of community.
That night, I left the shelter with remarkable peace. God had allowed me to be part of his miracle. I walk past Aaron smoking his cigarette, fellowshipping. He humbly thanks me and praises the Lord for His Almighty Goodness and Love!
Aaron’s story did not stop there. Through patient persistence, we pursued SSI with him. He managed to meet with doctors, outreach personal and mental health workers. He has a tendency to procrastinate, forget and ignore, so we continually nagged him, reminded him and drove him to his appointments. Over a year passed and he eventually starting receiving his benefits. In a surprising flurry, Aaron immediately moved into his own apartment and started paying rent. He remains there till this day.
The stable housing situations of Freddie and Aaron are modern day miracles. I also believe it was a miracle just to get them into our shelter. But we need to look, and we can’t let the Freddie’s slip through the cracks. Think of your Freddie! Think of your Aaron! These 2 are just 2 of the millions ignored and forgotten, who wander this world, as if born as ghosts.
Beth was sitting at church, when Antonio wandered in and sat next to her. It had been raining throughout the night and Beth noticed his musty smell and damp clothes. Living as a 60 year old ghost and battling Chicago’s outside elements for well over 10 years, Antonio did not want to burden a soul. We approached him, spoke and tackled some of his fears. He took a very courageous step by receiving a warm sheltered bed that night and he experienced the reality of kingdom love. This was a simple miracle that came through the observant loving eyes (and smell) of Beth.
This cannot just be a function of various individuals seeking and finding deserted loners. Kingdom love needs to stem from community. We need to use our eyes, ears and noses to recognize the need that flows ruggedly through the harsh terrain. Together, using our God given gifts, we can lift our sisters and brothers from the gutters. When people see and experience this sort of love and unity, we will be seen and known as the salt and light Jesus spoke about.
The silence of the Ghosts, who simply exist in the crowds, will never stop crying out. Despite the stories of Freddie, Aaron and Antonio, I live with the realization that I have bypassed too many ghosts. I repent at not heeding the Spirit’s cry to embrace and love a brother or sister in suffering turmoil. When I walk in my neighborhood, I am always flooded by the endless needs of extroverted personalities. It has become my challenge to look and see those silently screaming individuals waiting to be embraced with a word, a hug or a simple smile. As Christians, it is our calling to walk amongst the masses, find that invisible man or woman, and show them the love that can only come from the Kingdom of God.
How many people are longing to be noticed?
How many people are longing for love?
How many people are longing for another person to see their inner tears that are being wept?
The loneliest people are the ignored folk living in midst of the crowds. As Kingdom dwellers we need to pray for open eyes and an imagination to provide the help needed. We need to reach out, as there are many lost and lonely souls waiting for us to notice them and gaze into their vacant eyes, recognizing them as a person and truly love them; as someone beloved of God!