“Homelessness” simply put is to have no home and from this perspective is an economic term. Behind the term in Northern Ireland are some 18,000 people presenting themselves to the Northern Housing Executive as homeless. Only half of them are resettled. While this leaves many struggling economically they are also challenged by their social circumstances. Breakdown in relationships in the family home, addictions, debt, intimidation, and mental health issues are just some of the social challenges making the homeless some of the most vulnerable members of our community. All of these factors contribute to the on-going marginalisation of those experiencing homelessness.
Jesus was born in a stable to a teenage mother, refugeed as a toddler and certainly did a degree of “sofa surfing” in his season of ministry. The gospels repeatedly tell of God incarnate living in the economic and social chaos classified as homelessness. He chose to converse, eat, and live out God’s love amongst those on the fringes of power or influence in society. They offered him no advance in business, education, or family standing. However, he did challenge those in authority and power when the law did not promote compassion and dignity of the marginalised (Lk. 13:10-16; Lk. 14:1-6). As imitators of Christ our response to homelessness is given the ideal model in the life of Jesus Christ. How close are we to the Model?
We have a history of generosity as Christians in financial giving for those in need. However, God has placed us in a world much more diverse than economics in isolation. There is room to inhabit the planning office advocating for more social housing in new developments; we have a voice to be heard for integrated health treatment with those with mental health and addiction issues; we can eat and converse with those experiencing homelessness relating and getting to know each other; there are government and non government agencies already involved in supporting people and families experiencing homelessness we can partner with in how to support the multidisciplinary issues of being vulnerable. Jesus on occasion went to a quiet place to pray but he did not solely pray putting a safe spiritual distance from the homeless. He was intimately involved in the economic and social challenges of life through relationships. The Christian response is to be Christ imitators not isolated Christ followers.
In my Father’s house there are many homes if it were not so I would not have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (Jn. 14:2). Jesus’ promise is to offer us a place of long-term residence at home with God in relationship with Him under His care, safety and security. When we pray the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven we commit as Christian to work in the flow of Christ’s work here on earth to reflect His promised Kingdom.
Heather Law is a project worker with people experiencing homelessness in south Belfast. Her Masters degree in Theology focused on the theology and practice of inclusive church. Her background as a forester previously allowed her to work with the marginalised and displaced in Peru and northern Sudan.
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