Finding God on Gannon’s campus: Volunteer work provides connection with homeless population


A few weeks ago, my family and I volunteered for a few hours at a local homeless shelter.
The weather was anything but great, so we expected to see quite a crowd that evening.
As someone who spent a week working at a homeless shelter my freshman year, I was excited to finally bring my family along.
I wanted to see a change in their hearts and minds that I had once felt.
Stationing ourselves near the clothing store, we watched the doors open for the night as the guests came in.
They huddled in from the cold, finding their typical cots and greeting the regular workers.
Some were silent and withdrawn, while others were incredibly outgoing and came up to shake our hands.
Throughout the entire evening that I was there, I saw the true essence of homelessness: a pure stigma.
In downtown Erie, we have quite a large homeless population. We walk around the streets trying to avoid eye contact, hoping that they don’t interact with us.
It must be so dehumanizing for these people.
But if you listen to their stories, you hear something completely different.
Most have hit hard times with drugs, downfalls in the economy or mental illness. Many are veterans who returned from service and were unsure of how to navigate the unstructured civilian life.
They resemble you and me.
Though I had to leave a bit early that night, my parents stayed much later.
Later on, we met up and I was blessed to hear of the impact that this experience had on them.
My father explained that one man was talking about his relationship with his daughter and it hit him that he was just a dad too, trying to figure out how to parent.
They were shocked by the stories and the personalities of each person they encountered.
And now, the shelter has closed for the season.
We pray for them and that they find a place of comfort for the rest of the year.
Overall, the entire experience just showed the nature of what the Gospel is.
We are to love each other despite backgrounds, boundaries or circumstance.
Take the time to hear each other’s stories and learn to love them where they are.
Jesus himself gave the order in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
With the way our world is today, it is hard to see love.
But there are ways that we can do it within our everyday lives.
Take the time to hear each other’s stories. Share in their experience. Meet them where they are.
By taking these steps, you can find God in that person and celebrate this beauty.
For my family, we were able to find God in the faces of complete strangers. Strangers who were once outcasts, becoming just like you and me.

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