Friday I stayed pretty close to camp. I worked on making sure my tent could withstand the rain forecasted for the next week. Saturday, the rain kept me in my tent way more than I had planned. It’s hard to risk getting wet when you don’t know how or when you will get dry. I did go out to do an interview with Clarksville Now, and in the evening, I set up an info table at a missions night at a local church. Because of unavoidable things like this, I’ve had to keep my pickup close by so I can come and go when the bus isn’t available.
I went to the missions night straight from my camp. Normally, for something like this I make sure to dress appropriately, with clean clothes, combed hair, clean shoes and hat. But when you’re homeless, sponge baths (especially when it’s cold and damp), and getting your head wet so your can brush your hair out takes a lot of effort and feels like crap. And you can only get so clean. You still feel dirty; and after awhile, you might even think, Why bother?
But I felt I was supposed to go to the missions night just like I was—looking like a homeless man.
So I get there and get set up, and all is good. Then I go to the restroom in the hope of cleaning up a little. Mind you, I hadn’t been close to a mirror for a couple days—and that’s how long it had been since I had showered or changed clothes because I had so little to choose from. I had on a pair of green army pants and a Prove It shirt that was too big, and that I’d had to sleep in the night before. I hadn’t shaved in days, and I was wearing my old Manna Cafe cap that I wore out years ago. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of cleaning up I could do, so I washed my face, put on a bunch of body spray, and tried to make the best of it.
As people started to arrive, they were very kind as I tried to explain my appearance while we talked about Manna. But I have to be honest here… I have never been so self-conscious in my life. I just knew everyone could smell me and was offended by my appearance. A good friend who I hadn’t seen in over a year came up and gave me a hug; it was great to see her, but I just wanted to run away and hide.
This wasn’t a short mission night, either. They pulled out all the stops. We spent an hour at the info tables, then there was a big ole meal, and the food was really good. Each missionary was assigned to a table to eat and talk about their ministry. Let me say again that the church and the people at my table were very understanding and great. But by the time the guest speaker had finished, I was so embarrassed about the way I looked and smelled, I just wanted to hide under the table. In fact, about halfway through, I slipped out to use the restroom and never went back to my table. I just hid at the back of the room, and then when it was over I packed up and got out of there as fast as I could.
To those of you who are from that church, thank you for inviting me, and I look forward to next year. But just know that God used you to show me why we don’t see many homeless people, or those who live in extreme poverty, in our churches. They are too embarrassed by their appearance, the clothes they have on, or the fact that they can’t always afford hygiene products. Sometimes it’s much easier to just not go. In fact, there is a part of me that may be scarred for life by the experience—even though I’m just pretending to be homeless.
I’m not saying I have the answer or that I know how to fix the problem. But I am testifying that the problem is real.