Lenten Reflections: Making a Difference, One at a Time
Lunch for homeless people is distributed after Mass in the Lafayette Park. The liturgy is part of a program called Street Church, run by Epiphany Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. Crista Friedli/Bread for the World)
Monday, Feb. 18
By Marilyn Lariviere
“What you did not do for one of these last ones, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25:45
This familiar scripture is a commandment to all those who would follow Jesus to reach out beyond their comfort zones. He never told us to build cathedrals or create liturgy—he simply told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners.
In 2007, while working as a youth minister, three of my youth challenged me to begin a program for the homeless on Cape Cod patterned after Ecclesia Ministry in Boston. For all those involved, it was a time of trusting that God would bless our endeavors and that funding would materialize. Today, Youth StreetReach is a vibrant program supporting seven events each year that involve teenagers from area churches and schools working with and for the homeless providing hospitality, food, and clothing.
The key is in providing an atmosphere that is more than a soup kitchen.(although soup kitchens are certainly valuable!) Using tablecloths, centerpieces, homemade casseroles, fresh pancakes, and homemade doughnuts provides an atmosphere of hospitality. Games such as Jenga, checkers, chess, and playing cards are on the tables. Looking out to see teenagers and guests enjoying each other’s company is a living example of the message of Matthew 25.
At first, when new youth come, they are a little hesitant to reach out, but as the morning wears on, the magic begins to happen. As physical bread is shared, spiritual nourishment is provided for everyone. The youth learn through hearing stories from our guests that homelessness is not limited to those who suffer from addiction and mental illness. We meet the homeless who are teenagers, families, folks of all ages, educational backgrounds, and ethnicities. These are the “anawim," the poor folks who need our love and support. And yet, we too are the “anawim” as we struggle with our own spirituality.
We celebrate when folks return to tell us they have moved into housing, and we mourn when others return to the Father. Over the years, the teenagers have moved on to college and employment, but they carry with them the reality that they have seen the face of Christ in those they met. The guests are able to receive a special touch of grace along their journey. The motto for the program is the familiar story of the starfish:
“A young boy walked along the beach, picking up starfish who had washed up on the beach and tossed them into the water. An old man asked 'Why are you doing that? It can’t make a difference, there are too many of them !' But the boy replied, as he tossed one back, 'It made a difference to that one!'"
"Making a difference … one at a time” is a motto we can all adopt in our daily lives.
The following prayer was written by the youth as part of the closing worship for the first Youth StreetReach event in 2007.O Lord, we live in a world where it is often forgotten that everyone is Your child—the rich, the poor, the hopeful, the hopeless, the ignorant, and the open minded. Please help us to obliterate the hurt and the hopelessness in this world. Give us the strength and faith to break through the window and embrace your people, so that we can reach out to those in need to tell them they are loved. In Your name we pray. Amen.
Marilyn Lariviere is the National President of Church Women United, Inc., and the coordinator of the Youth StreetReach Program. She lives in Hyannis, Mass.
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