Several people from my congregation spent the part of the day cooking and preparing a meal for fifty people experiencing homelessness here in Los Angeles. This is the second year that we have participated in this winter shelter which prepares meals and provides overnight housing in our area of the city. It's a much needed resource for a small number of people compared to the 60,000 people who are living on my city's streets and in cars and in tents.
As the food was all set out and the perfectly chiffonaded basil was placed as garnish, the new director called the people to line up. One of our members said, "We are going to pray now" and the director told us that we were not allowed to pray.
Not allowed to pray? What should we do?
One said to her, "We always pray before we eat." She responded, "You are not allowed to pray since we receive government funding."
I interjected, "We are allowed to pray, we are just not allowed to force people to pray." I then added, "Even congress opens with prayer."
We are going to give thanks.
I said to the people, "I am going to pray before our meal." I went on to pray and thanked God for the people present; thanked him for the food; and asked that God would abundantly bless the people in the room." It was defiant; but necessary to thank God for the provision of food cooked with love. All good gifts come down from the Father who created the light.
When I finished praying the room burst out with a hearty, "Amen!" It was awesome to say the least.
We began to serve.
Several thanked us for praying and one woman told me, "Thank you for treating us the same way that you would treat us in your own home." I appreciated that.
Following the meal there were several good conversations and I was overjoyed to see people from my congregation praying with some of the people in their seats after hearing their stories and getting to know them a bit. Of course they asked for prayer, it was not forced on anyone.
One person told me, "Thanks for not just putting the food in front of us like we are animals at a trough." That was a powerful statement. You see, you cannot really treat people with human dignity unless you are willing to treat the whole person--body and soul. The simple act of defiant prayer reminded these people--these people in the image of God--that we were loving them as humans rather than just treating them as beings in need of food. Our love for those hurting on the streets of our fair city is genuine love for them as image bearers. They deserve our best love and our defiant prayers. Will you pray for them too?