Written By: Justin Eisinga
“It sucks out here,” my friend Jared said emphatically. “Last night, I got woken up three times by three different people. Not to mention, I’m sleeping on a bench. It’s not like I’m getting much sleep to begin with.”
As I look into Jared’s eyes, which seem distant and unattached, I begin to understand, and my heart begins to feel his struggle. Jared didn’t choose this way of life, though he does choose to sleep in public parks and alleyways. An accident that took place days before his final college examinations forced Jared onto the streets, with no family to take care of him and nobody willing to hire him. With an addiction to painkillers plaguing him, John was forced to fend for himself on the sidewalks of downtown Toronto. “The shelters are scary places,” Jared informed me. “People steal your stuff, they scream in the middle of the night. I’d rather be in prison.”
This summer, I had the privilege of working for Mennonite Central Committee as a Program Assistant for their TOOLS (Toronto Opportunities for Learning and Service) program. Each week, I facilitated service-learning trips with groups from ministries across North America. Our objectives were primarily to educate those who live outside of Toronto on the realities of poverty and homelessness in Ontario’s capital and to encourage these groups to build relationships with people in their own communities who have been pushed to the margins. Through this employment, I have been able to build relationships with several people living on the streets in downtown Toronto. As a result, I have come to realize that following Jesus often looks like a walk on a path towards homelessness.
You see, the learning that has taken place inside the walls of the classroom has led me to these practical experiences of shedding my privilege and encountering the deepest needs of the world, whether it’s in downtown Hamilton or inner-city Toronto. In doing so, I’ve come to encounter my own humanity in the eyes of those living on the streets or staying in shelters. As I have followed Jesus into these dark places, I have begun to realize that He has been in these places long before I arrived.
Jesus identifies with the poor and the marginalized, and it brings him great joy to build bridges between social classes so that people who may never have even exchanged a passing glance can encounter each other’s own humanity and begin to walk through life together. It only takes one look at the group of women who followed Jesus around and helped fund his ministry to drive this point home. The Kingdom of God is not a place where these social barriers exist; in fact, it is a place where the last will be first and the first will be last. The new creation, which Jesus has left us the task of ushering in, is a realm of paradox, where all the people who choose to walk behind the footsteps of the Master Rabbi will understand, at the core of their humanity, what it means to live without the restraint of financial stress and to live in harmony with all of creation.
Until the day that this realm has been fully ushered in, we have been left with the task of building bridges between our world of privilege and the world of fear and insecurity that is waiting outside our doors. It is up to us to advocate for the marginalized in our communities and around the world. It is up to us to stare in the eyes of people like Jared and remind them that someone cares. It is up to us to experience our own humanity in the faces of those who are downtrodden and cast aside.
The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone; Jesus is waiting for us, sitting within people like Jared, longing to give you a new revelation of His presence on street corners and sidewalks in our cities and communities, wherever we find ourselves living, breathing, and eating. Jesus is waiting for us to walk on the path towards homelessness so that we might find our real home in His coming Kingdom, a realm of paradox and an empire of peace, love, and grace for all who call upon His name.