Homeless Immersion: Students Find Healing Through Serving

Homeless Immersion: Students Find Healing Through Serving

January 8, 2007

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be homeless or to lose everything you own, including the roof over your head? Three students and a professor from North American Baptist Seminary did more than wonder; they lived on the streets for a week.

As part of this five-day mission immersion experience offered as a course at NABS during the October 9-13 reading week, Dr. Jay Moon, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies, gave each participating student an empty cup. The purpose of the cup was not to encourage panhandling, but rather to serve as a reminder to go into the experience with an empty cup - asking God to fill it with something during the week.

The main objective of the mission immersion experience was to spread out among the homeless people in Sioux Falls, whether sharing a meal at The Banquet, hanging out at the Union Gospel Mission, or walking the streets. The group didn't necessarily publicize that they were from North American Baptist Seminary; rather they interacted with the homeless community as homeless persons themselves. Once the experience began, participants did not return home for the week. Each was allowed to take with him a change of clothes, sleeping bag, and a few dollars.

Master of Divinity student Clint Richardson began his week by riding the bus to downtown Sioux Falls. He walked off the bus a resident. "Fear rose up in me," Richardson recalled. "I had to remind myself to put people first and keep relationships central. It was hard not to pre-judge."

During the experience, Richardson met a man who had been in and out of jail for nearly 30 years. His background and upbringing were beyond imagination, but through the struggles and hardship, he emerged as a believer. Through their conversations, Richardson recognized this man as his fellow brother in Christ. "It was hard to see people working through such baggage in their lives but rewarding to see they were not cut off from the Gospel," he added. "As the week went by, I realized that there were lessons I could learn from the homeless - it was numbing."

Another Master of Divinity student, Mark Johnsen, said it's easy to pass judgment on the homeless, thinking that it is a situation that could never happen to you. However, through the homeless immersion experience, he realized that we are all just a few "what ifs" away from living on the streets. "Homeless people are no different than you or me," Johnsen recalled. "They have just experienced different struggles."

Jacob Merriman, also a Master of Divinity student at NABS, prepared for the experience ahead of time by reading scripture. Although he didn't feel he discriminated against the poor, he had a difficult time calling to mind the last truly poor person with whom he had interacted. "I am grateful for the opportunity to live among the homeless and eat with them," Merriman commented. "It was an eye-opening experience to be in the presence of those who are not only dependent on others but also on God."

Clint Richardson, Mark Johnsen, and Jacob Merriman all agreed that God filled their cups during the homeless immersion experience. Each walked away with ideas and desires of how they can use this experience as a stepping stone to impact their ministry.

Professor Moon, who also participated in the immersion experience alongside his students, is pleased with the outcome. "As we served together, our commitment to God and to serve him deepened," Moon said. "We found healing simply by serving others."