As of June of this year, there were 36,300 homeless people living in the streets of Los Angeles. The causes include mental illness and substance abuse. According to an article in the New York Times, city officials in Los Angeles say the primary cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. That complaint is being heard in more and more major cities throughout the world.
Thankfully, churches are not absent in this crisis. A Google search of “churches helping the homeless in Los Angeles” produced nearly 13,700,000 hits, proving that Christians are stepping in to offer aid in this situation.
Many people find themselves temporarily homeless for short periods of time. They lose their jobs, and then they lose their homes or apartments because they cannot pay the rent or mortgage. They have no family nearby, or family is unable or unwilling to help.
Some homeless people are also overwhelmed by high medical bills. Some are veterans who are unable to function due to post-traumatic stress. Some are fleeing forms of abuse and have nowhere to go. I encourage you to listen to an excellent podcast by IPHC pastor Kent Bell, whose church in Pennsylvania is helping women escape from sexual abuse and sex trafficking. You can listen here.
And yes, there are some homeless people who simply choose to drop out of society and live on the streets. They have little motivation to change their lifestyle. They receive what assistance they can from government or charitable programs.
All of us have seen people on street corners with signs asking for help that say, “God bless you.” I’ll have to admit they often pull at my heart. But I’m also aware that in many instances they are part of a syndicate scam.
While traveling overseas, I’ve seen children begging on street corners. Yet many of them are part of a human trafficking ring. Someone is exploiting them for profit.
As I think of these tragic situations, I think about Acts 16 and the Apostle Paul’s visit to Philippi. When Paul and Silas first entered Philippi, they met Lydia, a woman who was economically successful in her own right. She and her household came to faith in Christ and were baptized, and she opened her home to host the first house church in the city (see Acts 16:12-15).
The apostles then encountered a situation where unscrupulous men were using a “slave girl possessed with the spirit of divination.” We are told that her owners were using her to make “much profit by fortune-telling.”
Today we call this economic slavery or human trafficking. The Apostle Paul rebuked the demonic spirit operating in the girl. She was immediately released from the greedy oppression that had been controlling her life (see Acts 16:16ff).
The account in Acts notes that it was her abuser’s economic loss that led to the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. The rights of these two apostles, as Roman citizens, had been violated by the mob’s rush to judgment.
The remainder of the story in Acts 16 is well known to most of us. After the midnight earthquake that freed Paul and Silas from their chains, Paul said to the distraught jailer: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (16:28). Another household in Philippi came to faith in Jesus and was baptized, perhaps starting a second house church in the city.
It’s interesting that once Paul and Silas were released from prison, and after the magistrates apologized for violating their rights, the two men went back to Lydia’s house (Acts 16:35-40). They spent time “encouraging” the small band of disciples with exhortation and instruction.
I wonder if the people in the jailer’s house attended church? Perhaps more importantly, I wonder if the formerly possessed servant girl was there. The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to this unnamed young woman. But it’s hard to fathom that she was forgotten once she was set free.
I hope Lydia searched for her and offered a place of hope—a refuge to start life afresh with the Holy Spirit. I also hope the greedy men who used her ultimately heard that they, too, can be forgiven. I hope they, too, found themselves at home with Lydia and the jailer.
One of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament is hospitality (see Romans 12:13; Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). This gift involves so much more than being a gracious host at a meal or in a home. The word for “hospitality,” in the Greek, literally means “love or friendship shown to a stranger.”
This type of hospitality is part of the Christian response to those who are unknown to us, to those who are different from us. We desperately need this gift today.
The “stranger” among us today might be a refugee, a migrant worker, an immigrant or perhaps a homeless person. The “stranger” might also be the well-educated, the elite, the self-sufficient or the so-called “one percent” who have all the luxuries of the world but remain spiritually empty. They have houses, perhaps even mansions, but do not have a true home.
May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to know how to discern the times in which we live. And may He open our hearts to all who are searching for the hope and love of Jesus Christ.
Originally published in Encourage Magazine.