Close Encounters of the Uncomfortable Kind

Part 2: "7 Tips to Building Relationships"

by Lori Arnold — 19 December 2022

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Editor's note: This is Part 2 in our four-part series, "Close Encounters of the Uncomfortable Kind." Today, we feature seven tips on how to build a relationship with someone who is experiencing homelessness. The tips were written by Cru Inner City staff member Nate Wood, who we profiled in Part 1. Next week, several other Inner City staff members will share their practical helps on how to respond when running into a homeless person in a one-on-one setting.

Homeless signWe don't have to turn too many pages in the Bible to get to a fundamental theological concept: The Imago Dei, the image of God in all persons.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27, English Standard Version).

Male and female, rich and poor, believer and nonbeliever. All nationalities, all ethnicities. God created all of them in His image. Why does it matter?

In the forward of Sam Crabtree's book, "Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God," New Testament theologian, John Piper, put it this way:

"The point of being created in the image of God is that human beings are destined to display God. That's what images do. And the point of being redeemed by Jesus, and renewed after the image of our Creator, is to recover this destiny."

“Allow yourself to press into the awkwardness and uncomfortable nature of the situation.” As believers, we are commissioned to help others recover their destinies, no matter how distorted or damaged that image may be. That is at the heart of Cru® Inner City's work as we prioritize our outreach to some of America's most vulnerable and marginalized men, women and children. That is our collective, corporate mission. But how do we respond when we find ourselves outside the safety of our Inner City group, on the way to the store or coming home from work? Do we consider such one-on-one encounters as interruptions, obligations or privileges?

Nate Wood, who served in Los Angeles before joining our expansion team and moving to Kentucky, has a deep commitment to homeless people in all spaces. Here, he offers his seven tips for building relationships with those living on the outside. It starts, as the book of Genesis does, with the Imago Dei.

  1. Recognize and affirm God's image in them. Every human being we encounter — including those experiencing homelessness — is made in God's image with value, dignity and purpose. They reflect who God is and what He is like.
  2. Listen to their stories and learn their names. If all bear God's image, then we each have a story to tell. Those who are living on the streets have a story as to how they got there. As followers of Jesus, we should have the most empathy toward these individuals, because most often, their stories are filled with brokenness. The enemy has done all he can to destroy God's image in them, yet God is potentially bringing them hope, encouragement and light through you — if you will listen to their stories and speak good news into their lives.
  3. Press into the uncomfortable. Encounters with those on the streets can often be uncomfortable. There may be an addiction and/or mental health issues, little to no clothing, etc. My encouragement is to allow yourself to press into the awkwardness and uncomfortable nature of the situation. It is uncomfortable because we instinctively know that this is not how God designed life to be for them. The world turns away and walks on, but we have an opportunity to shine light into the darkness through loving interactions with those who are unsheltered.
  4. Listen to Jesus. In your encounters, be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. Ask God: "What are You doing in this person and how can I join You in what You are doing?" How can you demonstrate the love of Christ? What might Jesus want to say to this individual or group of individuals through you?
  5. Pray for and with them and bless them in the name of Christ. As you listen to Jesus, bless them in His name by offering to pray for them. You have the authority of Christ as His disciple. Blessing prayer speaks to a person on God's behalf to call down God's rule and presence in his or her life. Ask God to bless them physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Many who have been homeless for any amount of time have been recipients of physical goods from churches and Christian non-profit organizations. Most often, they are very open to prayer.
  6. Serve and help where appropriate. Demonstrate the love of Christ in word and deed by serving and helping to meet needs when appropriate. This takes wisdom because we might not always be "helping" when we attempt to give to those who are on the streets. There is no black-and-white answer here and every situation could call for a different response. If we are listening to Jesus and seeking to obey, I believe He will show us what is appropriate. Since we are recipients of unbelievable mercy, erring on the side of mercy and generosity makes the most sense in light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
  7. Build ongoing relationships. One-time encounters can be fruitful, but building an ongoing relationship with those whose stories we are hearing will prove to be most fruitful in the long run. You will begin to find those who are spiritually open and some who are already followers of Jesus. These individuals will no longer appear "homeless." You will realize they are brothers and sisters in Christ and begin to see that Jesus is present and active among those who are broken, poor, degraded. It will be an experience of change and growth, learning from these individuals as you encounter Jesus through them.

Amen and amen!

Next week, we'll feature 6 practical tips on how to respond when we come across someone in need.


Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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Lori ArnoldLori Arnold serves as senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.


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