The staples of our neighborhood
Taking a brief stroll down Devon Avenue will put you in contact with more than a few regular sites. Sure, there are the normal shops, doctors offices, and buildings under construction- but more than that are the consistent people of Rogers Park. Robert sits outside the local Target. Mike often rests in his wheelchair outside the CVS by the Loyola Red Line. Chris hangs out in front of Devon Market. All three of these people are homeless, and all three are often neglected by the many commuters, students, and dog-walkers of Rogers Park.
These are the very people we are thankful to see and spend time with on a regular basis. Every time we see them, we ask if they need any prayer, and connect with them for few minutes. Often we hear about their day, their struggles, and their thankfulness to be seen, loved, and heard. When we see these men and spend time with them, we are reminded of the Psalmist who writes:
what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?
You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all the sheep and oxen, as well as the animals in the wild, the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea that pass through the currents of the seas.
Psalms 8:4-8 CSB
Robert, Mike, and Chris have been made in the image of God. Like all of humanity, this means that these three men have been formed for communion and community with God, with each other, and with all people. Yet, much of the time, these three men often don’t feel seen by the community that walks by them on a daily basis. I think this is why it is so special to be a part of Robert’s, Mike’s, and Chris’ lives. We see them because God sees them. Likewise, they see us because they recognize God in us as we connect, pray, and talk with them.
It should be noted; we are no better than the other community members who often walk by these three men. Given the right circumstances and busyness, we would probably walk right by without a glance. But we are called to something in this community that goes above and beyond a cursory glance or friendly wave. For those of us who call the Family Empowerment Centers (FEC) our home, we can’t help but see others who often are not seen. We see them because God sees them. And because God dwells within us, we cannot but recognize Him in others.
Robert, Mike, and Chris are not problems that need to be solved. Nor are they potential converts to our local church. They are beloved sons of God who are also “crowned with glory and honor,” as the Psalmist said.
Part of our work involves this type of connection, but also training others to make these kinds of connections in our community. Because we live in a time and place in which value is placed on a person’s online persona and brand, this is one of the hardest lessons to learn. Without the medium of a screen, in a small neighborhood in a major city, how do we see and recognize the intrinsic value of those whom we cannot connect with through electronic media. How do we see and love those who are the forgotten of society.
The first thing we train others to do sounds more simple than it is in practice. Put away your devices, remove your earbuds, and go for a walk down Devon Avenue. Look for the staples of our neighborhood; shops, restaurants, doctors offices, buildings under construction. More importantly, look for the human staples of our neighborhood- people like Robert, Mike, and Chris.