Why Friendship Matters

Mark stormed into our office. He was breathing heavily and smelled like alcohol.

“What’s the problem, Mark?” Jeff asked.

“You call the housing authority and tell them to forget it,” Mark replied in anger. “I’m tired of being on the streets. Tired of waiting. If they’re going to be this way about it, I don’t want it.”

Mark has been homeless for several years. Recently, he was granted federal benefits that cover his housing needs. The news was a major victory, though the process has frustrated my ministry partner Jeff quite a bit. Jeff has helped Mark walk through the appropriate steps, but it’s required a lot of waiting. Over time, Mark has grown more annoyed with the bureaucracy, often getting belligerent enough that we have to ask him to leave.

The current situation was heading that direction, his tone suggesting that Jeff was complicating the process on purpose.

Fingers were being pointed, slurred curses spoken.

That’s when my friend Matt stepped in.

How can I describe Matt?

Matt received a wrestling scholarship to Stanford but turned it down to live in the woods for eight months. He carries many knives. He’s a renaissance man, someone you want with you when belligerent drunk men are cursing you.

As Mark mumbled his angry curses, Matt approached him, gently (but firmly) grabbed his arm and said, “Mark. Look at me. Take a deep breath.”

Mark looked Matt in the eyes and took a deep breath.

Matt continued, “Mark, I know it’s difficult. Trust me, I’ve been in your same situation. I know life on the streets is hard.”

“I’m sick of it,” Mark said, exasperated.

“I know,” Matt said, “but you are so close. Just hold on. Don’t do anything stupid. We are here for you, just hold on.”

Mark apologized for his behavior and lovingly hugged each of us. Then we prayed together!

In a decade of working with the poor and marginalized, I’ve seen many homeless friends come close to acquiring basic needs, only to have their personal struggles get in the way.

This is why, when serving the very poor, we must go beyond material resources and offer the ministry of loving friendship.

Mark’s problem is not that he needs housing more today than he does tomorrow.

It’s that few people, if any, are helping him endure the waiting.

What if Matt said to Mark, “Not on my watch! We’re marching down to the housing authority and refusing to leave until you have shelter!”?

Or, on the flip side, what if Matt simply punched Mark in the face?

Christ compels us to enter into relationships, and love.

The first instance of “not good” in the world was when God noticed that, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

How does God fix this problem?

He could have just made some adjustments to creation and made loneliness a good thing. He is God after all.

Instead, he makes a person.

When he wanted to deliver his people from slavery, he sent a person.

When he wanted to save humanity from their sins, he came as a person.

And when he wants to extend his family, he sends people.

Do you see the pattern?

If you are reading this, remember…

You are a person, too.

(Photo Credit, Alex Weiss)

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