Editor’s Note: Missioner-in-training Misty Menis-Kyler reflects on a thought-provoking encounter with a man experiencing homelessness as she served food and drink to those in need in Washington DC.
Last week, in addition to our regular formation classes, I had an amazing opportunity to go out into the streets of DC and give food and drink to those experiencing homelessness, but more than that I was able to be present to them by listening to their stories. Being intentionally present to those experiencing homelessness was something I had never really done before.
What is it about the homeless that makes us hesitant to speak to them, to approach them, or to even look their way? Could it be the fact that they embody all our fears? That at any given moment that could be us standing there in our vulnerability and begging for change?
If so, shouldn’t that be a reason to help those in need? If that were you standing there, wouldn’t you want someone to help you? Or could it be that a part of us thinks that for whatever reason they must have put themselves there? That they are drug addicts, alcoholics, or prostitutes and therefore not our problem?
Whatever the reason may be, those who are experiencing homelessness go unseen everyday.
But there is so much to see. I wanted to stop and hear their story.
I met a man on the night I was out giving food to the homeless. He was sitting in front of a store with a sign that was hard to read, but I could make out multiple colors and the words “Just Smile.”
This stopped me. What could this man have to smile about? He was dirty and hungry and homeless. It was hot and humid and the mosquitoes were everywhere. So what reason did this man have to smile, for he was in fact smiling. It was both a beautiful and awkward smile that mesmerized me.
As my group stopped to chat with this man, he told us his sad story of how he nearly died and how he went from battling depression and hating the Lord to finding meaning in his life and having his faith restored. He quoted scripture and ended by telling us that all he really wanted was for people to smile.
He said that if people would just smile at him, he could smile too, and that was all he really wanted.
I thought this was one of the most beautiful and simple things to ask for and yet I hardly see people smiling at one another walking the streets of DC. Isn’t it amazing how just one smile can actually change someone’s day?
The power of a smile is so great that it catches like wildfire if we let it.
Let’s just smile.
Reflection Question: Reflect on your own mindset to those experiencing homelessness and financial difficulties. How can you stop and be more present to listen to someone in your life today?