Visiting our Orphans

When I came to Chicago, I noticed that our call for compassion cannot be lived as an idealistic dream. One night, I gazed at all the sleeping homeless men and realized I was standing in the midst of a sea of orphans; a hundred guys without families, ostracized and seeking someone to listen to their endless stories. What I was encountering was anger, grief, hopelessness, mental illness and incarceration, not a cute little orphan boy begging for another plate of food.

We unconsciously commit acts of neglect and favoritism when we conform or are stained by this cruel world. The weak get weaker, the poor get poorer and the defenseless continue to be enslaved by dominating forces. Our challenge is to wash away those dreadful stains, by not conforming to the pattern of this world!

As the world teaches us to prioritize money, power and popularity, we lose the capability to truly love and experience the biblical vision of “pure religion”. James was calling his listeners to live stain-free, by taking some initiative and visit widows and orphans with revolutionary love.

Alex watched his mom commit suicide. His daddy never cared. Full of rage, yet Alex was only a teenager when he began his homeless journey. He was mad at God, authority and any person who stepped into his path! He started gang-banging, selling drugs and embracing his life of violent rage. To this day, he remains an emotional time-bomb and is dangerously unpredictable!
Visiting this young orphan takes courage and means listening to the angry lyrics that spill forth from his lips.
Visiting this young orphan means constantly wearing your “peace-making clothes”, as during your time together he will probably erupt on another person, often putting you in harm’s way.
Visiting this young orphan means that you give and he takes!

Tyrese was young when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar. Even though his family has significant power in one of Chicago’s top gangs, Tyrese started using crack and alcohol to “self-medicate”. He was given responsibility, but he was unable to handle it, so he was considered a serious liability. Ironically, and due to his family’s prominent position, Tyrese is seen as someone with power in his gang, but was left homeless at the tender age of 18. Now he is 40 and homeless!
Visiting this orphan means embracing much patience and courage, as there will be times when you need to rescue him from his crack binges and persevere through his psychotic episodes.
Visiting this orphan means getting entrenched in their gang lifestyle, being a “peace-maker” by working with and against their philosophies and the controlling force of gangs.
Visiting this orphan means that you give and he takes!

Without friends and family, Antonio escaped from Cuba in the eighties. When he arrived in Chicago, his friends and family were the Latin Kings where he earned a highly respected “name”. Recently he had a very serious operation and they released him from the hospital, with only a walker and a bag of medication. He knew us and since he was now homeless, he somehow maneuvered his fragile bones to our front door and we got him a bed. Antonio is a 73 year old man on dialysis, with a rock-solid faith in the Almighty! We call each other “papi”; because he needs my (our) help and I call him papi out of respect of his age.
Visiting this old orphan means patiently meeting his countless needs with his hospital visits, clothes and special foods.
Visiting this old orphan means adapting from the normative way of doing things and compassionately making some all important exceptions.
Visiting this old orphan means that you give and he takes!

Obviously, not all of our orphans ended up running to or being coerced to find family in our local gangs. Our orphans are numerous: Matthew endlessly stares into space, while aimlessly wandering Uptown’s streets, communicating with no-one but himself. Jaime left his wife in Mexico to join the US Air-force during Vietnam, only to be rejected by both the US government and his wife, now this dejected hard working man suffers from crippling depression. Walter is a very grumpy old man who has disassociated himself from everyone. Even though he expresses hatred toward all people and seems at liberty to violently cuss out anyone, his breathing problems mean he needs a lot of help, love, people and a warm bed to sleep in.
Visiting our homeless orphans means entering their world, meeting them where they are at and persevering with them through their struggles.
Visiting our homeless orphans means embracing a kind of revolutionary love that doesn’t force them to become like us, but allows them to discover their true worth and God-given freedom.
Visiting our homeless orphans means much giving and very little taking!

I believe the apostle James knew that widows and orphans could be difficult people to relate too. Often they are like the distressed people I just mentioned: lonely, full of rage and depression, tainted with a criminal record, erratically emotional, mentally ill and in search of love. Too many lonely souls wander our streets. Too many lock themselves away in their solitary rooms, Too many are searching for love. If we are dwellers of His compassionate Kingdom, our call is to live in radical non-conformity; dwelling with, visiting, embracing and loving our distressed widows and orphans, giving them a glimmer or beam of hope that shines brightly from His Kingdom.
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