By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (Jeremyreynalds@gmail.com)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS-FEB 6) Joshua Stout, manager of a Chick-fil-A in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was willing to buy a homeless man, Justin Burkeen, a full meal.
There was just one requirement-that Burkeen allow Stout to pray with him.
The interaction was observed by area resident Joey Mustain taking his daughter out for supper, and chronicled on Facebook. The post went viral.
Mustain said in that post, “All I could pick up on of the conversation was the manager saying that he’d love to give him a full, warm meal–not just scraps or extras– and the only thing he required was that the man let him pray with him.”
Mustain did not immediately respond to a request from me asking for additional comment.
In addition to a meal, that Chick-fil-A interaction resulted in the creation of a gofundme page.
Interestingly, as the page states, Burkeen wants to “travel around the country feeding those who are much like (him) and to spread a little more hope where hope itself seems hopeless. He wants to pay it forward and has always had a passion to do so but never had the means to.”
The page notes that Burkeen “has lived a rough life that eventually led to him being homeless just over 10 years ago. Even in moments of despair he has found hope in a higher power that he hasn’t let go of.”
While praised by many, one Christian minister spoke out vehemently against the incident.
Writing in his blog, Hugh Hollowell called it “ abusive. It is wrong. It is spiritual molestation. And speaking as a Christian minister, it undermines and contradicts the entirety of the message and teachings of Jesus. This is not what Christianity looks like.”
I first heard about this from Facebook friend Gary Johnston who wrote that, “Not everyone is religious, but everyone deserves food. So I was promoting that if you want to bring up religion, simply feed/help them FIRST and then you may talk about other things.”
I asked our Joy Junction Facebook friends what they thought about Johnston’s point of view. A number of people responded quite quickly.
Eliane said, “My thought has always been that if you want to help you do it without conditions. If you want to pray do so, silently even, as God knows what is in your heart. You can ask if the person you are helping wants to pray with you, but never make help conditional.”
Vanessa said, “Help the person and if they mention anything about God then talk about God if not pray for them in your own solidarity. People will always have an opinion, I wouldn’t worry about it. Everyone does it their way or thinks in their own way.”
Ira said she totally agrees with Johnston. “You should never make ‘praying’ or your view of God a ‘condition’ of feeding another human being. I go to church every Sunday and pray on a daily basis. But when I help others, I do just that; help them! God already knows my actions and (there is) no need to stop and force that on another.”
So should prayer and/or religious services be a prerequisite for helping the homeless? Some time ago, I heard about the head of a homeless agency reportedly thinks it is “immoral” to mix religion with delivery of services to the homeless.
Maybe he or his clients have had bad experiences with those who combine religion with helping the homeless. If that’s the case, it’s sad, because the gospel is supposed to be “good news.”
My question to anyone who doesn’t believe in sharing the gospel when assisting the homeless, would be, “What other form of real encouragement is there for a homeless and hungry person after basic human needs have been taken care of it?”
And perhaps that’s the key. Let’s share the gospel after rumbling stomachs rumble no more and tired and weary limbs have found a place to rest.
Joy Junction is unashamedly a gospel ministry, as opposed to just being an agency, and sooner or later our guests will hear the gospel, one way or another. I was curious how our gospel component registers on their appreciation scale, so one of our staff asked a handful of our guests what they are most grateful for at the shelter.
One man said, “The spiritual guidance that (staff) provide shows you that God is with you all the way. I am forever grateful for all the staff and residents who have taught me. I have been truly blessed here and now I can use what I’ve learned to bless others.”
Another man commented, “The Bible classes help us to find ourselves along with Jesus. JJ has given us opportunities to grow. I like the family friendly atmosphere. That has helped my wife and I to continue to stay together, even when our life together has become difficult.”
Talking about two of our supervisors, one woman said “(Staff members) Sophie and Marcos are just two who really are my ‘go to’ supervisors to be real with me. Marcos always has a word of advice and a prayer. I thank God everyday that JJ is here to help me provide for my kids.”
So what does it boil down to? Respect and concern for others. Facebook friend Mary had a good point when she wrote that situations should be dealt with individually.
She said, “Some people need prayer first, and through that help is sought. Some need help first, and through that is an opportunity for prayer. Some are only seeking help, not prayer. Pray for them after you have helped them and they have left. Some only need prayer, and will refuse help that is offered. The biggest issue is respect for the person and his/her needs.”
In summary. Whatever you do, make sure it’s mixed with a generous dose of love, mercy and grace. That includes making sure noone goes away hungry.
Photo captions: 1) Deep in conversation. (via Joey Mustain). 2) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at firstname.lastname@example.org
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