While I’ve only participated in homeless ministry twice, it has already changed my life.
I had originally heard about City Reaching, a faith-based homeless outreach group, for weeks
from my peers at Christian Fellowship. However, I have always put my schoolwork first, not
allowing much flexibility or opportunity to give to others, even though that was the thing
I so much desired. But somehow, one of my friends needed an additional certified driver, and
so while I initially hesitated, I decided to go out to West Springfield that Monday night in
November. I had no idea what I was getting into or what to expect, figuring everything would
work itself okay.
During that crisp Monday night, about 50 or 60 volunteers huddled in a circle in the parking
lot of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Most of these volunteers were college students, while others
were just community members. I also noticed the majority of the volunteers were men, and it
was refreshing to see caring, loving men who wanted to change the world, just like myself.
Pastor Greg epitomized the meaning of a leader. He was a black man with a short stature, donned
the same long wool coat, and wore a knitcap to keep his bald head warm. From hearing him speak
and seeing him interact with the volunteers and homeless, I could see he was a man convicted
of God’s truth and lived a purposeful life of love and care. I remember my first night
when we were all huddled in a circle and Pastor Greg began recounting the previous week’s
stories and updates of the various homeless people each team had met on the street. PG (our
nickname for Pastor Greg) remembered each and every homeless person’s name and expressed
love, care, and concern for each homeless person as if each of them were his best friend. He
told us about the previous week, when he was out on the street until 3 AM because he was insistent
on getting a homeless man off the cold, wet streets and into some place warm like a shelter,
but the homeless man refused. PG decided to call the police on the homeless man so he would
have no choice but to seek a warm shelter. PG didn’t even know this homeless man and
this man was yelling all sorts of obscenities to PG, but PG still loved him and was determined
to get this man to someplace warm, even if it meant he would be staying out all night in the
cold and put himself in a potentially dangerous/violent situation.
PG also told us about his trip to Cambridge where he collaborated with a faith based homeless
ministry group. That past weekend, he had traveled to Cambridge with some other people in our
Springfield group to join the Cambridge group in cooking and baking food all day to feed the
homeless, all the while fasting. It was amazing to hear the stories of love and human connection
experienced while toasting a sliver of bread with a homeless person and the lessons learned
about building relationships of trust and respect.
I’ve been very privileged and protected for all my life. My parents grew up in an environment
where they didn’t have the opportunity to go to school or have enough to eat. When my
dad immigrated to America in his early twenties, he went to school during the day and worked
at night in a restaurant run by a distant relative who was especially mean spirited. I actually
know very little about my parent’s past because they’ve told me so little. It was
only when I traveled half-way across the world to visit my great grandfather in China that
I began to see pieces of my dad’s life and what his life was like before I was born.
Their life was filled with political instability and poverty. During the Cultural Revolution,
children were taken away from schools and had to work in the rural countryside for years. My
mother was only able to finish high school. When she immigrated to the United States, she had
to work to support her family, so pursuing higher education was not an option. As a result,
she worked as a housekeeper in a hotel and has had the same job ever since, more than twenty
My dad was and is incredibly hardworking and ambitious. His youth is long gone, with so many
unfulfilled dreams, like my mother. So while I was growing up, they gave me everything that
they wanted but never had. Piano lessons, violin lessons, art lessons, ballet lessons, after-school
academic enrichment programs, and Chinese classes. In the midst of all this privilege, I didn’t
realize how lucky I was, but felt all these extra classes were a burden. I felt like my schedule
was always packed, and I never learned to have fun.
During my first year at Smith, I voluntarily signed up to work in the kitchen because I felt
I needed a job to earn some extra money and relate to my peers who had no choice but to work.
I remember asking my dad to send some paperwork for payroll information because I told him
I was working in the kitchen. He was so upset and confused to why I would take on such a job,
to spend my time earning minimum wage when I could spend that time studying. He didn’t
understand that I was sick and tired of being so pampered and spoon-fed, that I craved financial
independence and the pride that comes from making one’s own money.
Being involved in homeless ministry has been so meaningful to me, but something that I didn’t
readily share with my parents. Going out into the streets of West Springfield to talk and feed
homeless people, a segment of the population my parents would consider lazy, drug addicts,
failures, and dangerous to be around, represented me developing my own beliefs and values rather
than just obediently adopting my parent’s view. Their desire to protect me out of love
stunted me from growing into my own entity.
More than anything, homeless ministry replenished my soul and opened my eyes to poverty and
the power of compassion to fill empty hearts. I’ve met Bruce, a man whose cold blank
face showed that he had given up all hope in life, that there was no one who could rescue him.
He felt safer to be on the cold streets than in the shelter where his belongings might get
stolen. I met Wayne, a man who had earned an MBA degree and had a successful career earning
over $100,000, but he fell into drinking and using cocaine that he lost his job and became
homeless. That first night when I met Bruce and Wayne, our team was able to convince them to
check out the church’s shelter and give it a try, even though initially they were both
reluctant to enter a shelter due to bad experiences and shame. The next week when I returned
to City Reaching, PG told us that Wayne felt very comfortable at the shelter and consistently
returned to the shelter, and in week, the church member helped him find a part time job. It
was truly amazing to see the transformation that happened in a single week. Wayne had been
homeless, living all alone in a cold parking garage, and now with love and support, he was
able to make a fresh start. In just the two times I participated in City Reaching, I felt so
renewed and imbued with so much hope and faith that love and compassion can bring about real,
long lasting change. Seeing the leadership and love in PG and his conviction in his mission
as a Christian deepened my faith and understanding of who God is and what Christianity stands