Posts Tagged ‘Homeless Youth’

Black Lives Matters March; Women’s March; The Me Too Movement; and recently the student demonstrators marching on Washington, calling for action against gun violence after the recent massacre at a South Florida high school. 

Every one of these protests were supported and echoed by professional athletes, Hollywood entertainers and politicians. Every news channel covered these events almost every day. 

But do you know what none of the media were reporting? What professional athletes, Hollywood entertainers and politicians refused to speak out against? The epidemic of child sexual abuse in homes across the country! In fact, there is more community outrage about animal abuse than there is about child abuse! And the only time the news reports any type of child abuse is when it involves multiple sex trafficking, the death of a child, or some horrendous act perpetrated on a child that the news outlets can sensationalize. 

It is reported that 1 in 5 children have been sexually abused before reaching the age of 18. That means that out of the 500,000 students who marched on Washington protesting gun violence, over 100,000 of them had been sexually abused at some time in their childhood—AND THEY SAID NOTHING!

Nebraska law now requires that any child, age 3-18, who has experienced sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and neglect, witnessed a violent crime, or who has been recovered from a kidnapping or found in a drug endangered environment, be interviewed at a Child Advocacy Center by a trained professional. 

In 2015 4,945 children were served by a Child Advocacy Center in Nebraska alone. And out of those 4,945 children served, nearly half had reported being sexually abused—91% were abused by someone the child knew well; a step-parent, relative or caregiver.

Yet, sadly, for every one child that discloses sexual abuse, many more remain silent. Because they are either too afraid, or too ashamed, or both. The number of child abuse cases would easily double, if every child that should be seen at a Child Advocacy Center under state law was actually provided that opportunity. 

http://nebraskacacs.com/Docs/2015%20Annual%20Report%20-%205.30.16%20-%20Compressed%20V2.pdf

Many of us have heard the stories from the Me Too Movement how traumatic it was for adults to be sexually harassed or assaulted. If it’s traumatic for an adult to be sexually harassed by someone, how much more traumatic is it for a child to be sexually assaulted in their own home by someone they trusted and was supposed to care for them? http://theweek.com/articles/749634/how-metoo-leaving-child-victims-behind

To make matters worse, even when the perpetrators are arrested and charged, most judges only sentence them to probation and require them to register as a sex offender— which does nothing to protect vulnerable children. 

The Sex Offender Registration law in many states do not have any restrictions on registered sex offenders. This is a common misperception. The SOR law in these states does not prevent an offender from attending events, limit employment, restrict an offender from entering any facilities—schools, playgrounds, children museums or other public places where children congregate. Some states do not even restrict a convicted child abuser from living with or socializing with their victim! In many states The SOR law can only mandate that the offender register his or her required information at the sheriff’s office within the required time. This is another reason many victims of child sexual abuse never speak out or report their abuse—they know that they will never get justice.

There are many organizations across the country who are working with law enforcement and legislators to fight against child sex trafficking and rescue its victims. I applaud the work that they do, but they are they are working on the symptom instead of the root cause. 

Research has shown that 43% of runaway and homeless youth were sexually abused before they left their homes. These young people often flee abuse at home, but are exposed to further sexual victimization and human trafficking once on the street. One of every three runaway teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. And the average age is fourteen. Many of these children will be trapped in prostitution for years before they escape—and the trauma they experience could affect them well into their adult years.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

April is both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There are many ways in which adults can make a critical difference in a child’s life. Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, neighbor, or family member, you can help. 

Caring adults can support the healthy growth and development of children who have experienced abuse by helping them recognize that it’s not their fault and that you believe them. Children who are able to confide in a trusted adult and feel they are believed by that adult will experience less trauma. Children who falsely claim to have been sexually abused only make up less than 1% of all reported cases.

It is time for adults to speak out for those who have no voice!

For more information on what you can do to prevent child sexual abuse visit the sites below:

https://www.d2l.org

https://laurenskids.org

http://justiceforchildren.org

http://www.smallvoices.org

Advertisements

When most people think of the homeless, they think of the mentally ill, drug addicts or war veterans who somehow lost track of their lives and forgot how to get back to the life they once knew.

But there is a large part that makes up a much darker side of the homeless community: Homeless youth.

Many factors contribute to the overall number of homeless youth each year, but common reasons are family dysfunction, exiting the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and sexual abuse. Research has shown that 43% of runaway and homeless youth were sexually abused before they left their homes.

These young people often flee abuse at home, but are exposed to further sexual victimization and human trafficking once on the street. One of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. And the average age of entry into prostitution is fourteen.

1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of child sexual abuse in the United States. 69% occurred in the victims’ home. 90% were sexually assaulted by someone they knew well. (A step-parent, relative, family friend or caretaker) The actual number is most likely higher because many incidents go unreported. Children’s Advocacy Centers served more than 311,000 children around the country in 2014. Two-thirds of the children served disclosed sexual abuse. (205,438)

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as: sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained  years of age.”

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires states to develop minimum definitions of abuse or neglect. CAPTA’s definition of sexual abuse includes: “The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

Last year, the National Center for the Missing & Exploited Children recorded that of the 11,800 endangered runaways, one in five were likely victims of child sex trafficking.

Girls are likely to become victims between the ages of 12 and 14; boys and transgender youths are likely to become victims between the ages of 11 and 13.

These children often grow up in broken and dysfunctional homes where love and affection are absent.  Instead of protection, many times these children receive brutal treatment. Their self-esteem is beaten to the point of feeling unworthy of any respect or fair treatment. They are insulted, humiliated, threatened, yelled at and isolated. They endure repeated sexual abuse—sometimes from several perpetrators.  All of these factors may lead them to start using drugs as a way to cope.

Less than 4% of all adolescents exchange sex for money, however 28% of youth living on the street and 10% of those in shelters engage in what is often referred to as “survival sex”. (Exchanging sex for money, food, drugs or a place to stay) Most of these children come from horrific living conditions; thus, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of sex slavery. They find themselves vulnerable, desperate, and in need of surviving. They require basic needs like food and shelter; therefore, they give into survival sex.

We need to change our mindset and preconceived ideas about these helpless children  that lead us to make erroneous conclusions. Many of us may have looked the other way and denied ourselves the opportunity to help. It may be that the assumptions made in regards to child sexual abuse and the homeless youth are what is preventing us from aiding and reaching out to them. If we did, perhaps there would not be over one million of our youth living on the streets each year in the United States.

More than the 500,000 attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. on January 21st to stand up for women’s rights—including health care reform, abortion rights, equal pay for women and protesting sexual assault and the rape culture.

According the statistics on sexual child abuse, out of the 500,000 who attended the Women’s March in Washington,100,000 of them either knew a child who was sexually abused, or was the perpetrator of sexually abusing a child themselves. And and yet no one spoke out against that!

Silence is one of the most common failure in preventing child abuse. In 2 Samuel 13, upon learning that his sister Tamar had been raped by her brother Amnon, Absalom stated, “Keep silent my sister, he is your brother, do not take this matter to heart.” (v. 20) Tragically, not much has changed in over three thousand years. Too many respond to the epidemic of child abuse with the same dangerous silence.  A silence that is too often preferred over acknowledging the existence of such evil within our midst. A silence that is too often preferred over the hard work required to develop and implement effective child protection policies. A silence that is too often preferred over the cries of hurting children.

I for one, will not be silent. I will continue to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. Will you join me? Write to your senators, to those who were elected to represent you in congress, and to the president.

Just like those who marched in Washington, we can make it known that we will be silent no more!

https://www.1800runaway.org/runaway-statistics/third-party-statistics/

https://www.nn4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/IssueBrief_Youth_Homelessness.pdf

https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics

https://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Education/FactsStatistics?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

https://www.state.gov/j/tip/laws/61124.htm

https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/capta2010.pdf

Recently I had posted an article on Face Book with the intent to bring awareness of the fact that many children and young people in the United States are trapped in the human sex trafficking trade and how organizations such as Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) https://ourrescue.org that use undercover teams of former CIA and Special Ops personnel go into the darkest corners of the world to help local law enforcement rescue  enslaved children and dismantle the criminal networks.

I was a bit disturbed and amazed when a Christian left a response to my post voicing his opinion that he does not believe that Christians should have anything to do with trying to help those who are caught up in the world’s evil because we belong to the kingdom of God and nothing we (Christians) do will ever change the evil that remains in the world.

He ended his response by insinuating that anyone who tries to help those who are caught up in the world’s problems, (poverty, homelessness, abuse) has a humanistic view of the world and is not what Jesus or the apostle Paul taught.

I have since discovered (To my dismay) that there are many Christians who believe that we should only help those who belong to the Christian faith. That when Jesus said that we are to love our neighbor, he was speaking about only our Christian neighbor—our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But what does the Bible teach about this?

In Luke 10:25-37 we read about a lawyer who tried to test Jesus asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Or how do you understand it?) The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told him the parable of the good Samaritan, a story about a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him for dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road and when he saw the man he passed by on the other side. Then a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side as well. 

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he gave money to the innkeeper and told him to look after him, and said, “When I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Jesus then asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

So according to Jesus, EVERYONE is our neighbor. And if everyone is our neighbor, how is refusing to help someone in need when we have the power and resources to do so, showing love to our neighbor? And how is obeying Jesus by responding to the needs of the poor, the downtrodden or those caught in the trap of human sex trafficking considered to be humanism?

Mistakingly believing that loving our neighbor refers to only other believers is nothing new. It was also a problem in ancient Judaism because of the people’s self-consciousness of being the chosen people and sealed in the rite of circumcision. This set Israel apart, made the people particularly loyal to their own kind, but at the same time, led to the tendency to neglect, and even condemn, those who were not Israelites. With such tendencies, it is not surprising that commandments had to be given to Israel to encourage compassion and justice for the non-Jew. Thus, Moses prescribed rites of conversion for the foreigner who wanted to eat Passover with Israel. (Exodus 12:43-49) He also commanded that some crops were to be left for the poor and the alien. (Leviticus  19:9-10)

In the New Testament period the Jews understood the biblical laws of the Old Testament that speak of neighbors as a command for special treatment of fellow Jews. Jews showed special love for fellow Jews because they were covenantally and racially bound together. There was a general social friendliness to Gentiles, but Jewish prejudice still remained. Even early Christianity showed a similar kind of “prejudiced love”. (Gal 6:10)

Jesus sought to expand the concept of “neighbor” to include non-Jews and even unbelievers. This was clearly challenging to many in Judaism as well as the early Church. Jewish practice had come to the general conviction that a “neighbor, ” in purely legal terms, was a Jew or proselyte to Judaism. For Jesus, a neighbor was anyone with whom you came into contact with—whether Jew, Samaritan, Gentile—or even pagan!

This profound parable of the good Samaritan, with its teaching on the importance of showing love for anyone within one’s reach, along with Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and his love for Gentiles, (as in the case of the Roman Centurion—Matthew 8:5-13) Samaritans, (as in the case of the woman at the well—John 4:1-26) became foundational for the early Church’s missionary efforts and for interpersonal relationships within the largely non-Jewish churches of Paul. Paul urged the Galatians to love their neighbors as themselves and here the implication is that it involved both Jewish and Gentile Christians (Galatians 5:14) and we find in Luke 6:27 an emphasis on loving one’s enemy, (Meaning Jew, Gentile, or pagan) and doing good to them.

There are other Bible verses that confirm this:

Philippians 2:4 – Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Proverbs 19:17 – Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.

Matthew 5:42 – Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Romans 15:1- We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Allison Stevens wrote a very good article for the Daily Bread website concerning this subject in which she stated:

Jesus’ entire adult life was characterized by a deep concern for the spiritual condition of the nonbeliever. He saw them as desperately lost, and His heart was broken because of that. His compassionate purpose for their well-being was deep-rooted, and He showed this concern specifically in the way He met them where they lived, fed them, taught them, and healed them. (Matthew 9:9-11; Mark 1:33-34)

The example Jesus set for us is to build relationships with people who don’t yet know Him. When we meet a person who has not yet experienced God’s saving grace, we are to have the heart of Jesus and extend a helping hand at their point of need. If they are thirsty, we can give them a cup of water; if they’re hungry, we can feed them. (See Matthew 25:35-40)

Let’s not forget that Jesus came to our rescue when we were lost. So now, out of gratitude and love, we can find opportunities to do what we can to help others who are separated from God. Isolating ourselves from sinners misses the point of sharing the good news of Jesus, and it feeds into a self-righteous attitude.

I think it’s clear that we, in countless ways and opportunities, can and should reach out to non-Christian people. We can show them love by offering them a meal, a job, or friendship, and most importantly, we can introduce them to Jesus, the Savior of our souls.

My heart grieves for my neighbors who don’t know the joy that is available to them through Jesus. I believe that we can do much more to be Jesus’ hands and feet to those who are lost and alone in this world.

A wind-chill advisory was in effect today until noon for the Omaha area and parts to the south toward Nebraska City, Falls City and Beatrice and sections west that included Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney and Hastings. The advisory was also issued for extreme northwest Iowa and most of southwest Iowa.

As a bitter cold front is making its way into the Metro area in Omaha this week, furnaces will be set on high, and people will be bundled up trying to keep warm as they venture outdoors. Wind chill will set record temperatures as low as 30 below zero. With temperatures forecast to be below zero for highs, being outside can be deadly.

The cold ripped through my body in just the few minutes it took me to take out the trash today—so how can someone survive for long periods of time outdoors in this? Where do the homeless go when temperatures get dangerous?

Local shelters have been preparing to absorb more people because of the cold.
Mike Saklar, Executive Director of the Siena/Francis House in Omaha said, “This is very dangerous weather.” Mike has seen this before. He sees the homeless every day and knows that when the weather gets dangerously cold like it means that some will show up suffering from the cold. Although Mike and the staff at the Sienna/Francis House always expect an increase in visitors in cold weather, it’s an overwhelming challenge now because of the already extreme overcrowding.

The Sienna/Francis House has a policy of never turning anyone away who shows up. Rather than referring to visitors as clients, Mike and his staff refer to the homeless as guests. Mike considers himself as a kind of Shepard; and like any good shepherd, he knows that he’ll have to try and look for some of the lost sheep on the cold streets of Omaha. “We’ll send out patrols every hour looking for people.” He said. “And we’ll do it all night.”

Teens are especially vulnerable when the weather turns cold. Because of young people aging out of foster care system or an abusive family situation, many youth end up on the streets to fend for themselves. Shawn Miller of Youth Emergency Services said he would locate shelter for any teenager who needed it. He expected 60 or more teens to show up for Tuesday’s pantry night near 26th and Harney Streets. “We’ll do whatever we can to make them safe for the night,” said Miller, outreach coordinator for YES. That includes transportation to a shelter, a friend’s home or anywhere else they’ve found to stay.

It only takes a moment.
It can only take a matter of minutes for someone to suffer from frostbite in bitter cold. Dr. Mindy Lacey, of UNMC, said, “The most common areas that we see that get frost bite are the ears, nose, fingers and toes.” The worst effect of frostbite is with the onset of tingling or numbness and not understanding what’s happening. For the vulnerable or those who simply don’t know better, waiting too long after being exposed to the cold, could cause them to suffer irreparable damage.

Places like the Open Door Mission in Omaha are seeing a lot more people who need a place to keep warm too. “All of our beds on campus are filled, but we can always drag out another mat, we can get more blankets, linens and pillows,” said Candace Gregory, CEO of the Open Door Mission. “The Open Door Mission is already overflowing.” She said. “All of the shelter’s 860 beds are full, and on Monday night there were nearly 200 men, women and children sleeping on mats.” The Lydia House, a shelter for women and children at the Open Door Mission, has also seen an increase of 37 percent. They are maxed out at that facility.

Del Bomberger, executive director of the Stephen Center, said his shelter has plenty of mats and floor space in the gym at its temporary location in the old St. Mary Catholic School, at 5310 S. 36th St.

There are approximately 2000 homeless men, women and children in the Omaha Metro Area each night. Brutal weather has left workers scrambling to provide enough space, blankets, coats and gloves for those seeking refuge from the cold.

How you can help
Below is a list of critical needs for homeless shelters. You can drop these off at any of the local shelters in your area.

• Blankets, sheets, and pillows
• Gloves, hats, and coats of all sizes
• Men’s and women’s wool socks
• Thermal underwear – size small, medium, large and X-large
• Winter boots of all sizes

Living on the streets is dangerous any time of year, but that’s especially dangerous when temperatures dip below freezing. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately 700 homeless people die from hypothermia every year. But unless someone is underage, you can’t force them to come inside. If you know someone is living outside and you can’t get them to seek shelter, call the police and let them know, so they can take them to one of the shelters, because…

No one should die just because they’re homeless.

Their stories are as varied as their circumstances. Some of the homeless have graduate degrees; others served with honor in the military; still others once held high-paying jobs. What causes homelessness? A serious illness or disability, a lost job, and domestic violence are among many reasons. But even so, there are some important lessons we can learn from the homeless:

1. Be content with what you have
You might be surprised to know that there are a lot of homeless people who are quite content with their lot in life. Many are happy to be out of the rat race and free of the trappings that the rest of us have in our lives. Not only that, many homeless people remain upbeat and positive despite what life has thrown their way.

2. Be Thrifty
Homeless people know the value of a dollar in a way few of us can understand. And they know how to make it last. Every quarter, dime, nickel or penny that comes their way is used in the most efficient way possible. You won’t ever see a homeless person paying for a $5 coffee at Starbucks when they can get it for free at any day shelter across the city. We could learn a thing or two from them about spending wisely.

3. Be Resourceful
We’re conditioned from a pretty early age to get a good education, work hard, earn a good paycheck and then buy what we want. But many homeless people don’t have the benefit of a good education—or a good paycheck. But they do know where every food pantry and soup kitchen is; when every bakery disposes of their day-old products; and where the best thrift stores are. They feed and clothe themselves on their own initiative and savvy. We should all try to cultivate this kind of resourcefulness.

4. Help others
Being homeless is no picnic for those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the street. However, if you were to watch them closely you would discover that many of them share what they have with other homeless people. This should challenge us to share what we have with those around us as well. There are a thousand daily comforts we take for granted that homeless people never get to enjoy. We have these luxuries that we keep to ourselves while others go without. We should share with others out of the abundance that we have, because in the end, we’re no different than anyone else, and tragedy could befall us as well.

5. Persevere
A homeless person will stand at a corner all day begging for change or for any kind of work. I know there are stories of some people begging on street corners who are not really homeless, but they are the exception rather than the norm. Most of those you see on street corners really are homeless. They tough it out for as long as it takes, every day, to get enough money to eat and maybe a bed for the night. They don’t get sick days or vacations and many of them refuse welfare handouts, choosing instead to work for every penny they get.

Many of them look at their homelessness as a ministry. They persevere because they know that they are homeless for God’s greater purpose—the same purpose that God put us in our homes, at our jobs, and with our families. No matter what our economic status is, we should all be willing to learn from the homeless.

The Bible speaks plainly about homelessness:

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.” (Leviticus 25:35-36)

“Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Many people ignore the homeless, I think because they believe there is little they can do to “fix them”. But it seems to me that we’re the ones who need to be fixed. Anyway, it’s not God’s intention that we “fix” the homeless any more than it is His intention that the homeless fix us.

The apostle Paul wrote that we are one body in Christ. (Romans 12:5) Everyone—rich, poor, every race, every age—has a legitimate role to play in that body. We may go to a homeless shelter, or an orphanage, or a nursing home with the intention of helping someone else, but ultimately, we will be helping each other become the body God envisioned from before creation.

Mother Teresa, who worked with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta for most of her life said, “God makes no distinctions between rich and poor. In fact, the rich are often poor in spirit, while the poor may have many qualities the financially wealthy lack.”

Think about this: Every one of us is spiritually homeless. We live in temporary bodies, in a temporary house, on a temporary planet. No matter how modest or grand our living situation is now, we are all waiting to take our permanent places in God’s kingdom.

The most important thing we can learn from the homeless is that God has not forsaken them—and He’ll not forsake us either.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the story of a man who has two sons. The younger son asks his father to give him his portion of the family estate as an early inheritance. Typically, a son would receive his inheritance at the time of his father’s death. The fact that the younger brother instigated the early division of the family estate showed a rebellious and proud disregard for his father’s authority, not to mention a selfish and immature attitude.

Once the son receives his inheritance, he promptly sets off on a long journey to a distant land and begins to waste his fortune on wild living. But after the money runs out, a severe famine hits the country and the son suddenly finds himself in dire circumstances. Times get so hard that he even takes a job feeding pigs. He is so destitute that he even longs to eat the food assigned to the pigs. Pigs are unclean animals; so when this son took a job feeding pigs, (Even wanting to eat the garbage he was feeding them) it reveals that he had fallen as low as he could possibly go.

The young man finally comes to his senses, remembering his father and all that he had there. In humility, he recognizes his foolishness and decides to return to his father and ask for forgiveness and mercy, hoping to only become his father’s servant. Unknown to this son, his father had been patiently praying, watching and waiting for his son’s return home. The father is overjoyed by the return of his lost son and receives him back with open arms of compassion. Immediately the father turns to his servants and asks them to prepare a grand celebration feast in honor of this son.

Meanwhile, the older son is not one bit happy when he comes in from a hard day of working in the fields to discover a party going on to celebrate his younger brother’s return. The father tries to dissuade the older brother from his jealous anger explaining, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

To most of us, it’s easy to view ourselves as the prodigal son. We all know enough about loss, about decisions made that led to a trail of ruin and heartache. We know what it’s like to wake up one day and realize that we have wandered far from God, how we’ve wasted our lives and what it’s like to feel lost and unable to be found. Yearning for God’s love, we replayed our life over and over in our heads thinking: “Where did I go wrong?” And like the younger son, we hope beyond hope for another chance to get it right–Another chance to start again.

This is one of Jesus’ longest parables. And because Jesus doesn’t explain the parables’ meaning, the parable lends itself to many lessons. Many sermons have been preached on how the older brother represents legalistic Christians who have lost the love of God and the joy of serving Him. But I must confess that I sometimes relate to the older brother in the story.

In the parable, the older brother is upset because the father has thrown a party to celebrate the return of his younger brother who has taken half of the father’s estate, left home and spent the money on wild living while he remained obedient to the father all these years. He can’t believe what he sees when he returns from working hard in the field. He feels cheated.

I don’t necessarily identify with the younger son in this parable. No, I am the older brother. I have watched other Christians squander what God has blessed them with as they flippantly use God’s name and live and speak as if they belong to the world.

Most of my Christian life I have only wanted to use my talents to serve God. Not to gain favor with God, but because I truly love Him so much that I want to do all I can to serve only Him. But more times than not, I have not been allowed the opportunity to do that. So when I see half-hearted Christians being blessed so much, like the older brother, I sometimes I feel cheated too. But I’m still learning and growing, so try not to be too hard on me.

Most Christians would not admit to relating to the older brother. But I think if the truth were told, our churches are full of older brothers. That’s why we need to get to a new level of repentance, a new level of renewal. We need to repent of trying to get control of God. We need to re-examine the reasons for our wanting to do good. Otherwise there will be no renewal.

The older brother reacted the way many of us react when we feel cheated by God, (Myself included) when the reality is if we have truly repented and been saved by God through Jesus, how can we even think we have been cheated? We have everything we could ever hope for–eternal life with our heavenly Father.

The father in the parable represents our Heavenly Father. God waits patiently, with loving compassion to restore us when we return to him with humble hearts. He offers us everything in his kingdom, restoring a full relationship with joyful celebration. He doesn’t even dwell on our past waywardness. The older brother in the parable should have welcomed his younger brother back with open arms just like his father did–even though it cost him half of his inheritance. That’s the kind of love God desires us to have for others.

It is not up to us to decide who receives God’s blessings because he blesses those he chooses to. (Romans 9:18) So let’s put away our jealousy and remember the way back to the Father’s house and take our seat at his table. May we dive deeply into the intimate relationship that God desires so that we may enjoy with Him everything He has.

Ahh, Christmas time has come to us again! That time of year when joy fills the hearts of people everywhere. When we find people bustling through department stores and shopping malls to purchase that perfect gift for those they love—that one time of the year when we have peace on earth and good will toward all men. Right? Really? Ask any homeless person if they feel there is good will toward all men.

Homeless people are not respected by and large. Many of them will receive a Christmas dinner at a shelter and a few stocking-stuffers, and then it’s back on the street. The number one thing that they need and often deserve, even if you don’t know them, is respect. Respect them as a human being and fellow traveler on this journey we call life.

Living on the street is not like camping. You must be consistently on the move, and ready to get up and leave when you are asked to do so. If you are on the street, it is usually because circumstances beyond your control have forced you into that position in life. Living on the street, life is far harder than you could ever possibly imagine if you have never been there. Homeless people have needs like everyone else in this world. Their needs are usually very basic and to give of your time just to talk to them sometimes can really help. But if they don’t want to talk to you, respectfully back away. Otherwise, listen to what they have to say even if it makes absolutely no sense to you. It doesn’t have to. They are talking because they are alone and feel that they are without hope. And being without hope will eventually kill you.

There are many things that people on the streets will need to survive. For the homeless to lack some of these items could well lead to their death. To survive, they need things—small things. Like soap, shaving gear, postage stamps, pencils, and paper. Even having a good book will help to alleviate the burdens they carry around mentally every day.

The list above is good, but it does not cover the whole issue of how they will get money. Money is the key ingredient that everyone needs, but many will abuse it. If you really want to help a homeless person, give them a job if you can do so. There are many carpenters, electricians, and factory workers that are now homeless. Please do NOT discriminate against them; because everyone else is already doing that.

So during this Christmas season of giving, if you have anything that you can give, do so. Some people will argue that this only encourages them to stay on the street. It’s true that it will encourage a few of them to remain where they are, but there are those out there who, by simply giving them a bottle of water, a hot meal, or simply a smile and a kind word, will possibly save their life.

Some simple gifts that most of us can give:
• Instead of giving them money directly, go out and purchase Subway gift cards, and the like. Think about this, Subway and many of the sandwich places are selling subs for fewer than five dollars! By giving a homeless person a gift card for 10 or 20 dollars you may well give them food for three to four days! A lot of homeless eat very little and their stomachs are no longer as strong as they used to be. Sandwiches, especially from healthy places like subway, provide a great deal of nutrition that they desperately need.
• Do not give a homeless person greasy food! You know what that does to you and what ends up in the toilet? Try eating that and not having the opportunity to use a bathroom!
• One of the greatest problems that the homeless have right now is the need to bathe and finding a place where they can do that at. Most locations will force them from the property because of health risks, but most homeless people know where they can go to clean up. If you want to help, give them small bottles of antibacterial liquid soap. (Bar soap is harder to store and they may be allergic to some types of scented hand soap)
• An inexpensive sturdy back pack can prove to be invaluable to a homeless person. They can use it to safely store all of their items while still being able to remain mobile.
• You can usually find inexpensive seasonally appropriate clothing at a local thrift store to give to the homeless—Coats and accessories such as mittens and stocking hats in the winter and shorts and flip flops for the summer.
• The reason that you see homeless people carrying around cardboard is that the cardboard provides a layer of protection between them and the cold concrete they often sleep on. A Yoga pad that can be rolled up would help considerably. (And they’re not as unattractive as a rolled up piece of cardboard)
• Blankets are important too. Even when it’s warm during the day, weather can turn cold at night and a person should stay covered when they sleep.
• There are many things that can be done, if we simply think of the homeless as our fellow human beings and give them the respect that all humans deserve.

Don’t leave taking care of the homeless just up to the shelters. Remember what Jesus said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (See Matthew 25:31-46)