Sometimes needs just come to you. This is the real life story of a homeless woman standing in my living room and how God used it to show me my own need.
A Homeless Woman and an Opportunity for Hospitality
I was 22 standing in my brand new living room with my back to the open door. Our friends and my parents were busy unloading all of our earthly belongings from the moving truck into our small apartment. I was directing & trying my best to put together a lunch for the volunteer moving crew.
The butterflies in my stomach had grown comfortable in their new home. This adventure had welcomed them & they were never far from me. I had no idea what I was doing & it showed.
A few months prior my husband of less than a year and I were living in Syracuse, New York. I had finished up school, my husband was an assistant at our church, and working an additional full-time job. I was looking for a job & volunteering at the church. Some friends of ours came to see us for the weekend and asked us to consider candidating for a little church plant in downtown Binghamton (a little over an hour from where we were living).
The position had previously been funded by the Southern Baptist Convention but that was changing. The building had also been owned by the Southern Baptists but they had gifted it to a local Bible college. The current pastor (a great man, who we served under during college) was leaving for the foreign mission field. Very little was certain about what the future would hold but they wanted us to come.
My first reaction wasn’t really positive. I always thought we would live in Syracuse. God had other plans. We packed up our stuff a few months later and were dropped square in the center of the inner city. I grew up in the country and the suburbs so inner city life was something I very intimidated by.
Our area is not particularly large, however, it has been ravaged by poverty, mental illness, and drug abuse. The inner city here is filled with beautiful children, sweet people, drugs, and brokenness.
I stood trying to plan out how this little apartment, with windows directly on the sidewalk of the most notorious street in our city, could feel like home when my mom whispered, “Kate, turn around. Someone is here.”
I turned around with a smile, expecting it to be a friend coming to help with the move. Instead, a small woman stood in the center of our new living room, surrounded by our stuff. She was filthy from head to toe, her clothes were torn, she was missing most of her teeth, & she was repeating something over and over.
I approached her, noticing how her dark skin had been weathered by the abuse of the elements. I asked how I could help her and she repeated again, “I need emergency help. I need emergency help. I need emergency help.”
“Ok, how can I help you?”
Her eyes met mine, they were filled with tears. “I’m hungry.”
I set about making food for her. I stuffed a plate as heaping full as possible. There was nowhere to sit anyway, but I didn’t have time to ask her. I handed her the plate and she was gone. I turned around with wide eyes to see my parents standing there.
I felt so inadequate. The needs were so evident.
I’ll never forget my dad reaching his arm around my shoulder, the way he has done so many times, and whispering, “Kate, that’s why you’re here.”
I just nodded. I didn’t know what else to do.
He was right. We were here because the physical and spiritual needs of this community were so very real. They needed food and shelter and clothing and community. They needed support and welcome. They needed more than anything, the gospel. We lived here to welcome strangers into our home and share with them the best we could.
I learned that I actually needed them too.
Hospitality as Ministry
Our ministry was going to be one of welcoming people, showing hospitality in our broken way. Extending the grace we had been given as often as we could.
I never got to know that woman well. I saw her a few more times. She came to community meals we hosted and we shared the gospel with her. I don’t know whether she came to know Christ or not. I don’t know whether she was impacted at all by our interaction but I was impacted by her.
I’ll never forget her standing in my living room. So bold because her need was so great. She changed me.
No longer were homeless statistics just numbers on a page to me – now they represented real people. And slowly God began to loosen my hold on what was “mine”. It is a process my heart is still undergoing but the reality that my home is a place to welcome, not to retreat is remaking my perspective day by day.
I think most of us have stories like this, maybe not a homeless women letting herself into your house, but opportunities to be hospitable in the midst of normal, chaotic life. Opportunities to share the love & grace of our Savior by meeting felt needs & more importantly spiritual needs.
My life looks quite a bit different from that now (check out this post for a more recent family update) but I am still praying for opportunities to grow in my hospitality and be used by God to meet needs whenever possible.
Would you join me in praying for this? This prayer has changed over the years and it is now one I say regularly with my children (check out more about that here).
Do you have specific stories of hospitality? I’d love to hear!