Coming to Denver for Christ in the City, I had a lot of expectations. I expected less humidity, I expected mountains, and I expected millennials in cool coffee shops. I also had some expectations of what the homeless would be like.
The morning of my first street walk, I was incredibly nervous. I had been given all the safety precautions, I was told about the gang violence, I was warned about the serious drugs that people frequently do on the streets. However, my expectation of the homeless was completely smashed by the end of that day.
As we walked up to people on the streets and greeted them by name, each one of them was filled with joy. This is when the shift in perspective happened and questions flooded my mind: “What’s different about these homeless people? Where does their joy come from? Why are they so excited to talk to a bunch of kids?” This was not the homelessness I was used to.
Then it clicked in my mind – we greeted them by name. We searched for them on the streets until we found them. What was the difference between them and the homeless I’d encountered back home? They felt known.
One of the foundational beliefs of Christ in the City is that we must know who we are serving. You cannot truly know a statistic, but you can know a person.
I experienced this firsthand at one of Christ in the City’s lunches in the park. A homeless friend was leading the closing prayer and saying goodbye to the Year of Service missionaries he had become really close to. I immediately began to tear up. I don’t think I had yet fully understood how much the missionaries mean to our friends in the streets, nor had I ever really seen the fruit that Christ in the City produces.
I was standing by my friend David who is experiencing homelessness, and when he saw me wiping my eyes, he turned to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Alexis, do you now see the fruit of what you do? You all are so important to every single one of us. You make us feel wanted and loved. Don’t ever forget that.”
This was the moment when The Lord showed me the true meaning of what we do here. David was Jesus to me and he had no idea. I realized in that moment that I had received from my friend more than I gave him, and that was okay. I was completely humbled and started to see everything in a new light.
I understand the desire to be known – in fact, I would say that being forgotten is one of my greatest fears. Therefore, I now know that I cannot just sit idly by and let our friends on the street feel unimportant and nameless, knowing that the fear in my heart is part of their reality.
Once I realized that we are all searching to be known and loved, not only by each other, but by our Eternal Father, I realized we’re all the same. We are all homeless. Every single one of us. We will always be homeless until the day we enter the gates of Heaven.
To fulfill another’s desire to be known – this is our call, but it is not only the call of missionaries. It is one that the Lord puts in all of our hearts, and enables us to see the truth and beauty that continuously flows from every person that we encounter.
Alexis Ryder served as a summer missionary with Christ in the City. She enjoys drinking coffee at all times of the day, watching videos of wiener dogs, and adding “Geaux Tigers” to the ends of her sentences.