Many of you are wondering what’s going on with Roy Marshall now. You’ve heard rumors he turned down a room in an apartment. The other homeless men gratefully accepted, but not Roy. He said no—he wanted to stay in his tent.
Why would he do that?
Because Roy’s “end game” was never about finding shelter for himself or fixing what we refer to as the homeless problem, and what he refers to as the homeless opportunity. He hoped that by loving the homeless, it would change our hearts—as it had changed his. The mission God gave Roy was to love the church by helping them to love the homeless, the least of these.
Through this kind of love, we are called the sons of God.
The church, though, is a reflection of the people at any given time and place in history. Currently we are a society that believes every problem, every issue can be fixed with regulations and programs. We work obsessively to eradicate every ill in the world. On the surface and many layers down, the motivation can be altruistic, selfless—but at the innermost core, the desire to fix problems is a desire for control. Fix enough problems and we’ll gain control over life and death itself.
God tells us even the smaller “problems” will not be eradicated. The poor will always be among us.
Yet we still focus our attention on fixing stuff—sometimes because of love, but sometimes to the detriment of love.
Last year Roy approached individual churches with a simple request for shelter. For various reasons, most said no. Then the churches gathered to find a solution to the homeless problem. They found one—Family Promise. A program to help homeless families. It will undoubtedly serve many people when it’s finally organized, and be an asset to our community.
It won’t serve single men and women, though—only families.
But what saddens me most is how the churches gathered in love and concern to fix a homeless problem, but left men in tents in below-freezing temperatures week after week, month after month.
It feels like love became a casualty, lost in rules, meetings, and organization.
Not that Roy is resentful. He isn't. During those months in the tents, he and the other men felt the love of a teacher, a farmer, a truck driver, and on and on and on. There were honks and waves. There were individuals who came to the tents, sometimes bringing supplies, sometimes just stopping by to greet them or pray with them, or sit with them by the fire. It was love borne from the overflow of tender, loving hearts—not because someone had organized and scheduled it. And the people who came will tell you how they were blessed.
This is what Roy had been praying for—but he had wanted to share it with the church—the place where followers of Jesus gather. To be clear, organized programs are not inherently bad, but if we allow them to replace loving those who cross our path, then in essence we’re telling God that we’ll extend the love of Jesus, but we’ll do it on our terms, on our schedule.
I don’t know about you, but this shames me and scares me. Shames because He gave EVERYTHING to me, and yet I deny Him small acts of love every day. And scares because God is pretty clear on how He feels about people choosing what sacrifices they’re willing to make, instead of the ones He is asking for. These words: I knew you not. Words that would tear me to shreds.
The men formerly known as the homeless, are doing well in their apartments and are thankful to the individuals in the county who made it happen. It hasn’t solved the problem of homeless men in general, but it has blessed those who gave and those who received.
As for Roy, the county pulled the stakes on his tent—zoning regulations.
God continues to walk with Roy, directing his steps. Roy has taken up his cross—a real, 3-D physical cross, but not in the sense that it’s the burden he must bear.
The cross. The place where perfect love and perfect justice intersect—because of God’s immeasurable love for His children.
The cross. The symbol of radical selflessness. Of radical love. Roy's been carrying this physical cross on and off for months. Now he feels called to carry it wherever he goes as a reminder to himself that radical love (the kind we have when we’re plugged into the Holy Spirit) is freely given wherever we are, whomever we’re with. The doctor is always in.
Last night Roy came over for some communion and rest. He brought the cross, set it at our house. He said he hoped it conveyed that radical love resided here at this place Sam and I resided. I can’t properly express the emotion I felt when I went outside and saw it, considering all the opportunities to love I haven't taken.
It put life in perspective.
It put life in perspective.
For this next leg of Roy’s journey, God has called him to go wherever he is invited—always with his cross which he will set outside of the place he is staying. If the invitation is within about seven miles of The Gym, he’ll walk to the home or church. If the invitation is for within 20 miles, he would need to know in the morning, so he could get a really early start. If the invitation is for over twenty miles, a ride would be awesome. (I'm thinking a ride for destinations over seven miles away would also be awesome.)
The hope is that the cross, fully visible in the community, will remind us of Christ’s radical love for us, and in our thankfulness we will treat one another with that kind of love. The fruit -of-the-spirit kind of love. Everywhere we go. With whomever we meet. A smile, a greeting, a kind word, a kind deed. No pressure to fix or problem solve. Only an invitation to love in such a way that our own hearts will continue to change and to soften.
Roy knows this leg of the journey will have an end, too—and there might not be another one. Bodies break down. When he is gone, the world at large will not remember him. He is at peace with this.
As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.
If you would like to invite Roy to your church or home, you can go by The Gym, or I can get the message to him. My prayer is that he has spent his last night out in the cold. It's heartbreaking to hear him cough. He has lodging tonight. Tomorrow he’s staying with Karl, the man formerly known as the town drunk, who is currently over 130 days sober.
It changes people.
Please give it a chance.
All in Goodwill,