Thursday marks a week since a horrific crime shocked the entire Outer Banks community and even more so our faith community, which has reached, out to and opened itself up to the homeless who live among us. While staying in one of our churches and for reasons I have not yet heard, one of the guests of A Room in the Inn violently stabbed another guest, killing him.
And it happened in a church.
A Room in the Inn is a cooperative effort supported by numerous churches providing shelter and meals during the cold months for those who have nowhere else to live. Fourteen local churches open the doors to their facilities, using classrooms and lobbies as dormitories for a week at a time. Church kitchens serve breakfast and dinner and bagged lunches are prepared for the guests each day.
It is an outreach staffed largely by church volunteers, each with a concern for those without their own homes. No other such shelter exists here in Dare County, whether public or private. And while some are shocked to learn there are homeless people living amongst us in this resort county (with multimillion dollar beach homes), some 39 different individuals found a warm, dry dwelling and meals in the participating churches last year. As many as 17 stayed overnight at my church in January.
You won’t see the homeless unless you know what to look for and where to look. With no urban center they seek to blend in, not desiring any sort of public recognition. Many of them have jobs, but with employment difficult to find in the off-season, they’re income levels don’t support rent. In the cold months (and haven’t we had some cold this winter) living outdoors in tents or under unoccupied rental homes is not an option.
It does no good to deny their existence or to wish they would go away. Burying our collective heads in the sand isn't a viable option. The reality is they are here, some by their own choosing, some by unfortunate choices and others because the promise of employment and a new start never materialized. Many suffer from one form or another of mental illness, which only adds another level to the need for care...one which a church-based program cannot provide.
What took place last Thursday morning after breakfast in Duck will certainly cause the board members of A Room in the Inn as well as those participating churches to stop and wonder about the future of the outreach. With minimal government involvement the torch has been taken up by the faith community, where perhaps it belongs. But at what cost?
As we so tragically learned last week there is risk involved in inviting strangers into your “home”. No one truly knows the heart of any man or woman and how he or she might react when put into a group to live with other strangers. The question that has to be asked is “Is the risk worth the outcome?” It may be a difficult question to answer.
Christians are guided into caring because of Jesus actions and words. He was Himself “homeless” during His three years of ministry. "Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." He recognized that the plight of the poor would ever be with us. “You always have the poor with you”, and encouraged those with means to be generous to them.
Perhaps these words are the most challenging to us. “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.
"Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
"And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
And there is the challenge to do something “for the least of these”. Hopefully we can figure what that something is.