In recent months, the lives of homeless people with whom I work have borne witness to these words. And through their experiences I have been reminded that it is not me who opens the door to hope and a better future but the Lord himself in answer to their cry.
Mira's story Mira came from a comfortable background. She told me she started drinking vodka because that was what everyone else was doing at work and she wanted to join in the fun. But the drinking had taken over her life and at the age of 47 she was living a hopeless life. Abandoned by her well-to-do brother, shunned by her sister and mother and deserted by her embarrassed children, she sat all day and slept all night against a wall in 'Drunken Alley'.
Mira had been homeless for about five months. About eight months ago she had been drinking heavily and was then knocked down by a car. She sustained serious injuries and in the end required a below-knee amputation. After discharge from hospital, she found herself on the street.
Stories varied. She said her sister and mother rejected her and refused to have her home; Mira's sister Marina told me, with obvious disgust, that Mira had not needed an amputation, but had asked the doctor to do it so that she could claim disability pension. She and her mother had not wanted to have Mira home after this as she had already made life so difficult for them.
When I introduced myself to Mira, I bought her something to eat. 'Do you know Jesus?' I asked.
'Yes,' she said, 'I used to go to the church of Jesus Christ.'
When I asked her whether she could still pray, she looked at me as if I was asking her to approach an estranged friend. 'Mira,' I said, 'you only need to come to Jesus and ask him to forgive you and he will.'
Lord, it's getting colder. Mira will die unless we get her somewhere.
'Alright, would you please pray for me?' When I took her hand, she cried pitifully. 'Please come tomorrow,' she said.
This is how I got to know Mira. She was always pleased to see me and we always prayed together. I told her that I would try to get her into a home for people with disabilities. Such a task proved to be much more difficult than I had bargained for. First, at Mira's request, I went with one of my local church members to find her sister's house. The sister was friendly to us but adamant that she had had enough of Mira and would not help us get her into a home.
'She doesn't care about herself,' she began. 'She sold the crutches we bought for her for vodka. She does not move from the wall she sits against – even to defecate. She's lost all dignity. My brother bought her a house after she squandered her own to buy vodka, and what did she do? Behind my brother's back, she sold that one also! She has no sense of responsibility, her husband is on the street too – though not with her, and now both her children are on the street.'
What a history! I couldn't condemn Mira's sister. Would I have felt any different in her situation?
When we visited the brother, the response was worse. Mira's sister-inlaw would not even let us see him. She told us they had had more than enough of Mira, they had spent such a lot of money on her.
'Please help,' we persisted. 'The social work department can't do anything for us unless the relatives help and complete these documents.' Unsuccessful in our pleading, we wrapped up warm and ventured back into the cold night.
Mira cried, 'You're lying to me! You are not going to help! I'll die here!' I was so aware we were racing against the falling temperatures. Snow was imminent. But no door opened to us.
As we went from one department to another, we heard again and again 'No, without the relatives' help you can do nothing!'
'Mira, our hands are tied,' I said. 'I believe God wants you to seriously pray for yourself and that then he will open the door. I believe then things will happen.' Mira took on board what I said. She started to cry out to God and put her faith in him alone.
I lay awake praying, 'Lord, it's getting colder. Mira will die unless we get her somewhere.'
Deliverance Then in the night the idea came.
In the morning, two voluntary helpers and I took Mira (with her consent) in a taxi to a friend's apartment, where she bathed, washed her hair and was de-liced. In fresh clothes, she looked like a new person and I hoped that the detox hospital might think twice before rejecting her. Soon after we arrived, however, we were turned away because Mira had a temperature of 38oC. They advised us to take her to the general hospital where she could be treated for probable pneumonia.
But once again we were shunted from department to department and eventually advised to try yet another hospital.
An idea came to mind. I pulled out a little green card given to me by the Director of the hospital days earlier. Thinking 'It's who you know' I ventured, 'This doctor gave me her card two days ago and said if I had any trouble with sick homeless people I could ring her, even at home.'
'Oh really,' the on-duty physician responded with raised eyebrows and sudden enthusiasm. 'We'd better ring her then.'
It worked a treat. Mira was admitted without further argument and she had a complete examination.
After discharge we had Mira admitted to the detox hospital where she remained for ten days until, with the help of a worker from a homeless shelter, we completed all the documents so Mira could be admitted to the home for people with disabilities.
Mira has grown leaps and bounds in her faith. What a changed woman she has become! She is now settled in the home, and her son and Marina, delighted by the outcome of our endeavours, have agreed to go and see her.
Guided by God
At the age of 11 the Lord made it very clear to me that it was his plan for me to go overseas, but he did not lead me there until I was much older. I had not the slightest inkling I would be working with the homeless until a month or two before I left for Central Asia. The Lord began to show me in different ways that my work would be with those in the shadows, his treasures which I would find hidden in dark places.
This work gives me joy, satisfaction, frustration and sadness – and often all in one day. It is not for those who want to see quick results. To make friends and love the homeless is to take risks with your own life. It is not a glamorous position and on many occasions the anger of society at the homeless will also be directed at those that come alongside them, but it is where Jesus loves to be.