Probably the greatest takeaway from the evening at Jimmy’s was one of shattered misconceptions and prejudices – a humbling of our judgmental and prideful attitudes. How many of us, upon thinking of homeless people, immediately conceive of lazy, dishevelled, and ill-mannered persons? We walk by them on the streets of Cambridge, turning a blind eye to them as they plead. We reason with ourselves – ‘they don’t deserve it’, ‘don’t know what they’ll do with the money’, and ‘they’ll spend it to feed their habits’.
Yet, even as we meekly passed a simple plate of food into the outstretched arms of the people we met, it was clear that theirs was an attitude of profound gratitude. “Thank you”, resonating with deepest appreciations, was assuredly mentioned by each and every person. Their eyes, though reflecting a measure of tiredness and fatigue from the long and cold days, emanated their thankfulness.
“Most of them ended up homeless after a series of difficult periods in their life”, mentioned the head volunteer. As we conversed with them, we were surprised to hear that quite a few of them had significant educational qualifications. “Oh, yes. It’s not uncommon. Most of them went through a rough period – be it family issues or a loss of employment. These issues compounded really quickly with mortgage repayment, outstanding debt, etc. and the whole thing collapsed on them. What we can simply provide them is a place to stand on their own two feet again.”
Of course, the nature of homelessness in Cambridge is extremely multifaceted and diverse. They hail from many different places, have different causes, and are in different situated contexts. Furthermore, it’s not for us to say that, as students, a certain action should be taken by one and all to help them. There have been seniors who, acknowledging their apprehension to give money directly to the homeless, nonetheless still make a concerted effort to offer them a store-bought snack and drink from Sainsbury, Tesco, etc.
Amidst all this, perhaps, is the greater question – on what shall we do when we see a need in the community? Do we shrug off the yearning in our heart towards action with our own mitigating logic, or do we seek ways that we could holistically contribute to advancing the Kingdom of God? Surely, not every need in the community is to be borne by us, as with how we are all made different with different things that resonate with us, but shall we respond in humility and zeal to the causes that God has placed within us?
“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me. […] Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)
My friends, I urge you, do not dull your hearts to the needs of the world that resonate within you, and do not harden your hearts against suffering and need. We do these that His Kingdom may advance and that His love may be shown to the community. We may not see it immediately, we may not ever know of it, and perhaps we will never know, but we pray that His work may be done within others and within us in such deeds – and therein lies a need for faithfulness in our Father.
Yet, it’s not just what we can give – for even in these moments we can be sure God has something to teach us. Even in such acts of service, wherever it may be, God has so much to teach us of our brokenness and His amazing grace. It’s also not on what ‘meaningful impact’ we can make – how many people we can impact, or how many lives we can change – we should not be serving our own desires for scale and reach. But it’s about what needs there are, and how we can best fulfill them. If Jesus can wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17), there is nothing that is above our ‘status’ – perhaps, except our pride – that we can’t do. Stack chairs after an outreach session to the elderly? Wash plates and cutlery while a sermon is preached to migrant workers? Cleaning up after a leisure activity by special needs people?
We do all these not for the sake of recognition by others though our prideful selves may desire as such. We should endeavour to consciously deny ourselves such concerns of man, but seek to embrace the concerns of God in how best to advance His Kingdom, on how best to overflow His love to others, in humility and service, onto such areas of needs. Undoubtedly, this first requires us to experience the love of God ourselves, that by the overflow of such amazing grace and steadfast love we may be so compelled to love others in the community. Wherever your heart may be my friends, seek the wisdom of God on how you can serve Him, and, most importantly, do it out of the love that Christ has for you.
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NIV).
Throughout the rest of the evening, many continued to come by the kitchen counter to extend their thankfulness and strike conversations with us. “Thai food and Chinese food are the same”, one of them exclaimed - to our inner, suppressed gasps of horror. “I like spicy food – y’all could make it spicy next time!”, said another - to our amusement.
As we departed the building, tired and slightly fatigued ourselves, those who remained rose to their feet and moved to the main walkway to extend their thanks once again. Raising his hand, one of them offered a fist-bump to me. Without hesitation, I raised mine to connect with his. Till next time, grace be with you always.
If anyone would like to get involved, whether be it through volunteering or finding other platforms to serve the community, feel free to contact Ian Mak or Glenn Choo, and we’ll be more than happy to chat with you about it! Also, if you'd like to chat about anything that was written, feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!