My family, friends, strangers and the men and women experiencing homelessness ask me this question often. It’s a valid question.
I decided to spend a year of my life living in Denver as a missionary after graduating college instead of getting a job and using my degree.
So, why did I choose this life? What do I do every day? My street team and I go out to the streets everyday and talk to homeless people. We go with nothing more than a backpack with some snacks, socks, gloves, rosaries, and other various things to give to our friends who are hungry and cold. We go knowing we can’t solve all their problems.
We go to become friends with them, to get to know them, to pray with them, to be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to hear their good news. We go to be a consistent, encouraging presence in the lives of people who lack this. We go to accompany people.
The idea of accompaniment is crucial in the life of a Christ in the City missionary. It’s what we came to do. It’s what we offer our friends on the street.
In a world that measures success by what we do and how much we accomplish, accompaniment may seem trivial. It certainly did to me at first. These people are hungry and cold and tired and homeless. What am I doing for them by just going around and talking to them?
A quote by one of the patrons of Christ in the City may help to shed some light on this question: “Material poverty you can always satisfy with material. The unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for, the forgotten, the lonely – this is much greater poverty,” said Mother Teresa.
Yes, our friends on the street are hungry and cold, but these are not the biggest problems they face. Often times, these problems are nothing more than symptoms of the brokenness in their lives. There are a number of shelters and agencies out there employing caseworkers to help people with their material needs.
We go out to address the loneliness. By accompanying people, by walking with them through whatever is going on in their lives, we can bring them hope and show them love. We can’t solve everyone’s problems, but we can always be there for them.
Recently, we have been walking with a friend through yet another relapse into alcoholism. He is facing eviction, which means he might end up back on the streets. I frantically went through all of the options and asked a friend what we’re going to do.
“We will continue accompanying him,” he said. It’s all we can do for him. In fact, it’s all we can do for any of our friends.
Mary Sullivan is a recent graduate of Wright State University with a degree in chemistry. She loves deep conversations, good movies, and Cincinnati chili.