Last Wednesday night was, hands down, the most authentic, real, and true experience I’ve had since breaking my fibula. Part of the goal in writing the fibula diaries was to “suffer with the city,” and this experience gave me the chance to do just that.
Phoenix Rescue Mission is a homeless shelter, a rehab facility, and a renewer of broken lives, all wrapped up with a bow. Except that this bow is not pink, pretty, or pretentious—this bow is downright dirty. And Cliff, a homeless man turned “Hope Coach,” wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our mission for the evening was simple: ride around in a white van with the word HOPE on it, and give away as much food and water to the homeless as possible. Cliff was the driver of the van, the deliverer of hope. He was patient, loving, and kind, because he had been there before. Though he had graduated from college and earned his degree, a few years ago Cliff found himself on the streets with no job, no home, and no hope. Eventually, he found himself at the Phoenix Rescue Mission, which was instrumental in getting his life back on track.
As we drove around Phoenix I asked him if he could tell me the main cause of homelessness. His answer astonished me. “That’s easy,” he responded. “It’s the result of a broken relationship, an addiction, legal trouble, or loss of employment—and often, some combination of those dynamics at once.”
So often, we jump to conclusions as to why someone is in the position they are in. We rush to judgment. But Cliff had been there before. He hurt for the homeless, and he wanted to give them the same hope he had found: a hope in Jesus Christ.
As I rode with this Hope Coach, I couldn’t help but notice his heart for those who had nothing. He was loving, yet fearless at the same time. In the course of providing food, water, blankets, and toiletries to those we met, there were three people who changed my outlook on homelessness. I want to introduce them to you.
We saw Maria at our first stop, a nondescript parking lot. She was loading up on bags of food for her sister, aunt, and about eight other family members who weren’t there at the time. Cliff recognized her and asked how she was doing. That’s when her outcry began. She began pouring her heart out to us and explaining that she wanted to kick her addiction, but it had kept a tight grip on her. She had heard about Jesus Christ and the hope that he provides, and she wanted that hope. We proceeded to pray for her. In the midst of her tears and amens I could sense an overwhelming relief in that moment. Maria really wanted to change, as she realized that she was just a few decisions away from it. Cliff had been in the exact same position a few years earlier. He showed her that it was possible. He showed her hope.
I met Sterling at our next stop, another parking lot near a city park. Sterling, like most of us, just wanted to be heard. So we listened. He told us that he had met a girl, and she was helping him turn his life around. “She’s a lot like my mom,” he said. “She pushes me. I need that.” Sterling’s girlfriend, like most good women, encouraged Sterling to do more with his life. So he did. He applied for a job in welding, a trade he had studied in school. Applying was a big step for him because he had been without hope for so long. He thought it went well and he couldn’t have been more excited. Just when we thought the story couldn’t get any better, he told us it was his birthday! I didn’t have any gifts, so I gave him my LFG wristband and told him it was time to “freakin’ go!” Haha! I hope he listens.
Jennifer brought the story full circle. As we were headed back to the Mission, I asked Cliff to show me the Changing Lives Center, a one-of-a-kind facility that provides transitional housing for women and their children who are transitioning out of homelessness. As we pulled up, we ran into a woman named Jennifer. Jennifer was grinning from ear to ear. As soon as she saw us, she exclaimed, “I got the job!! Cliff, I got the job!” It had been eight months since Jennifer had moved into the Center, which tries to limit stays to about a year. With just a few months left, she was running out of time as well as hope. But now she was getting a new start. Never have I seen such a grin. “I start tomorrow,” she told us. “I’m working at a florist shop. The hours are good, and there’s an opportunity to grow in the company! I got a job, Cliff”
Jennifer wasn’t just happy; she had found joy. She found joy in something that she hoped for, but could not see. But that’s all hope really is anyways, right? Romans 8:24-25 says, “Yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.”
Despite all the difficulties they have experienced, what Maria, Sterling, and Jennifer all had in common was hope. It was the thread that held their stories together. It’s what kept them alive and what kept them going. They found this hope in Cliff, the “Hope Coach” who had been where they are, and is now where they want to be someday. They point to Cliff as their beacon of hope. But Cliff doesn’t point to himself, he points to Jesus Christ, who chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and chooses the world’s weak things to shame the strong, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27.
Whatever you do, never lose hope. Cliff didn’t. And neither will I.