We have two showers at Midtown Commons.
For the first three years I worked here, no one showered in them. In fact, we just used the showers for storage space.
Then, one day, Linda (who I mentioned last month) came into the Commons and asked if she could take a shower. She was a mess and it was sweltering outside so we said “sure!”
She was in the shower room for some time and emerged with such calm and peace that we couldn’t believe the transformation.
“Thank you all so much,” she said. “I really, really needed that.”
Over the next year, we had about one person a month taking a shower. But it was still a little rare for anyone to ask to use the facility.
Then winter hit.
Typically, New Albany winters aren’t too bad, but this past year was rough. We hit some sub-zero temperatures and Midtown Commons became the prime “warm up spot” for the local homeless population.
Eventually people discovered our showers and we now have half a dozen people using our showers every day.
I still remember when Billy, a homeless man who had survived a knife fight, came in to take a shower. We could hear him from the other room as the the shower kicked on.
“Yes… oh yes… ah man… that feels great.”
The homeless community is very diverse. There are men and women who are mentally ill. Some because of drug and alcohol abuse, others by birth. There are practicing prostitutes, drug addicts, violent ex-convicts, and so on.
And, in a very beautiful way, these people become family. They watch out for each other, they help each other panhandle, and they squat in abandoned houses together.
Then they wake up every morning, come to Midtown Commons, and start the day off with a hot shower.
This simple nicety restores an incredible amount of dignity for a population known for being smelly and dirty.
Often times, the most we can do to minister to the poor is affirm their humanity. To remind someone that they are still worthy of respect, even though they have been cast out by society.
But we ministers always want to measure effectiveness.
We ask odd questions.
“Are the people using our showers becoming disciples?”
Where does that kind of question come from?
And this is not to downplay the importance of discipleship. I believe in discipleship and firmly believe that the church should actively and intentionally teach believers how to follow Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t disciple most of the people that he loved.
Because love is not a means to an end. It is the end.
The question we should ask then, when we are approached by someone in need, is at the heart of the story of the Good Samaritan:
“How can I be a neighbor?”