Rev. Lena Ali

TIME TO CHANGE "THE NO ROOM IN THE INN MENTALITY
TO THERE IS ROOM!”

Homelessness is a sad reality in the world today and those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, afford food and raiment; pay our bills and belong to a loving family should praise and thank God for our immense blessings and share these blessings with others who are less fortunate than ourselves.  In our wildest dreams, we can never imagine the plight of the homeless, the refugee and those who are seen as the dregs of society and a burden to the welfare state.  For the past few weeks, I have been deeply troubled and very concerned about the way some of our members and Church stewards are treating the homeless.  A few Sundays ago, I received a call from a Church member (from another Circuit) who was deeply distressed at the way a situation was handled at a Methodist Church. A homeless man came to the Church to ask for directions to a local food bank which was at the top of the road.  The door steward and senior steward decided that they did not like the look of the man who was carrying a rucksack so he was probably carrying a bomb but to them; he also looked as if he had mental health problems.  The man was not allowed into the Church and to cut a long story short, they called the police who subsequently came and escorted the man off the premises.  The man was later seen at the Food Bank and this member spoke to him.  He said that he was ashamed and very upset because he was never in trouble with the police, he did not mean any harm and from his experience, Churches are the most unwelcoming places.  It is sad when we do not stop to consider the implications of our decisions.  How much pain do we cause to others who are already hurting?  I am in no way condemning members/stewards who in fairness are concerned about their safety and I confess that we all need to be vigilant but we must also  deal with people who come to us in a sensitive way.  We have a responsibility to those who come to us.  Are we not meant to look after each other in love?  In Matthew 25:31–46; we read of the Final Judgement  and I am certain that none of us would like to be told: ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me.  I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home.  I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing.  I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me. ’45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’  Rich or poor, we are to ‘do what we can’ when others are in need.  Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in his own particular way, was born, lived and died as a homeless person, the brother and friend of all homeless people and of all refugees and asylum seekers.

Recently, I attended a meeting at a Housing Association where I am a voluntary Management Committee member. This is a Roman Catholic Housing Association which provides accommodation for the homeless.  We were meeting with the service users and the homeless who are awaiting accommodation.  I was serving the teas and when I was introduced to the clients, one man said; "I have never been given a cup of tea by a Minister before." To which I replied; "Well, you need to come to our Church and we would be very happy to offer you tea and biscuits." His reply was: "I have been to your Christian Churches and in one Church they  threatened to call the police if I did not leave.  Sorry love, I would prefer to die of thirst.  I have been to the Mosque, they gave me food and clothing, your Church branded me as a terrorist." I apologised and asked him which Church he was referring to and I was deeply saddened to discover that it was a Methodist Church.  He did mention that the local Roman Catholic Church offered them sandwiches, fruits and beverages.

We do not live in a perfect world.  I know that we live with the threat of terrorists on our doorsteps and  we are exposed daily to numerous atrocities.  It is natural for us to be suspicious and afraid but we cannot tar everyone with the same brush.  I know that there is a lot of work being done in our Churches with the Night Shelters, we support food banks and some of us have established links with organisations like the Manna Society where we offer clothes, etc.  What worries me is the fact that some of our members need some training/advice in dealing with issues relating to people, like the homeless and the lost who come to us for help.  These are people who are shunned by society; they carry very heavy burdens and some of us are not helping by our attitude and reactions.  These are some of the heart-breaking comments we hear from the homeless:  “No one would come looking for me because I did not go home.  If I freeze to death on a bitter cold winter's night, no one will know who I am.  I can't think of anyone who would come to my funeral.  Will I have a funeral?  I do not have a friend to call my own.  Nobody cares if I went to bed hungry or cold or sick or sad!  What we crave is for someone to open a few doors for us; doors we cannot open ourselves.”  We all know that although we may not be our brother’s keeper, we are our brothers' brother, and “because we have been given much, we too must give much.”

My aim is to raise awareness of the way we treat those who are different from us; those we see as the “Dalits, the social outcasts in our society” and for us all to cast aside  “THE NO ROOM IN THE INN MENTALITY TO THERE IS ROOM!”  It means that we make room in our hearts by sharing in the sacred responsibility to serve the most needy in our society. When we sing; “All are welcome!” We need to remember that good deeds are not done by walking into Church but by welcoming everyone into our Churches and reaching out to all.  Let us pray that God will give us with a peaceful and gentle spirit to help us to work and pray, be kind to others, bless us and unite us in peace and love others as Jesus loves us and cares for us.

Lena Ali