Northwestern hosts a leadership conference every year and it's free for students, so I decided to go this time. It was Friday evening and Saturday morning. The main speaker was a guy named Mike Yankoski. Maybe you've heard of his book, Under the Overpass...
A few years ago, as college sophomores, Mike and his friend Sam left their comfortable lives at a christian college in California to live a homeless life for 6 months. They left nearly everything behind, taking only a few sets of clothes and a guitar, and got on a train for Denver, where their journey began. They lived as a homeless person. They had no money except what they earned panhandling on the streets of the city they were in. It wasn't for a project or even in response to a dare. He wanted to know if his faith in God was real - if he could actually be the Christian he said he was apart from the comforts he'd always known.
Of course he was never actually homeless. He knew that if he ever just couldn't go on, with the drop of a hat and a phone call, he could be back home in that comfortable life. But he lived it anyways, sleeping on the sidewalk and eating out of garbage cans, whatever it took to survive.
I haven't read the book yet, but I'm really excited to. He spoke to us twice, both times he shared stories from those six monthes. Some of the stories were funny, but most of them were very sad and convicting. He told us of the time that he and Sam were sitting in a Subway restuarant and they watched three groups of christians come in, order food, sit down, pull out their Bibles, and have a Bible study, all without a single glance their way. He told us about how they slept in front of a church door on a Friday night and on Saturday morning they were kicked off the church's property because they were having a church breakfast. They found out later that the man who made them leave was the director of homeless ministries at that church, and he didn't think of letting them in because the homeless ministry was on Tuesday nights. How often have I seen a homeless person and simply avoided them?
It really made me think. He encouraged us, the next time we see a homeless person, to just smile at them and say hello. If you have time, have a conversation. Don't give them money. Just talk to them. Maybe bring them a sandwhich. You'll probably be the first in a week or so to show them any kindness.
He shared the story of the Good Samaritan. I have forgotten all about that story. What kind of people are we that we allow so many people to live on the streets of our cities.
Did you know that the UN estimates that it would take 10 billion dollars to make sure that everyone in the world has food for a year? Sounds like a lot, right? But did you also know that Americans spent over 50 billion dollars on Christmas gifts during December 2007. 50 billion dollars. We could have fed every hungry child in Africa, every homeless man in Los Angeles, but instead we bought gifts. More stupid things that we don't need. What a waste. What kind of society do we live in?
Friday night for supper, we all expected to be served a really nice, fancy dinner like they always do at this thing. When we got there, though, they told us to look at our name tags. Each of us had a colored star on it. Those that had blue stars were upper class that night. (Worldwide, upper class is those who make over 32,000 a year. That's almost considered poverty in America) They were served a nice meal - baked potatoes, Cordon Bleu, green bean casserole, etc, and cheesecake for dessert. What we all would have been served any other year. There was one upper class person at each table. There were two middle class at each table- including myself - and we got rice, rice, beans, and lemonade. The other 4 or so at each table was lower class. They ate rice and water. It was a really interesting dinner. We had some really good conversations.
Then, on Friday night, we had an annual event at Northwestern to raise awareness of homelessness. It's called Night in a Box. And that's exactly what it is. You spend the night in a box on the green. Two of my friends and I decided to do it. It was really interesting. It was cold and uncomfortable, but it's what thousands of people do every single night. I did it once and I knew that my warm dorm room, my hot shower, a good breakfast, and a bed were waiting for me just a few hundred feet away in the morning... We did head over to the Pizza Ranch and steal some leftover pizza from the dumpster in the back, though.
So much to think about and process. But now I must write a theology paper... I have to do a theological analysis about the movie, Cars. Interesting, I know.