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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Brian Seeley

Experiencing Homelessness

Brian Seeley spent last summer living among the homeless in hot and humid Lakeland, Fla., before he began his final semester at Southeastern University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in practical theology. Seeley, 24, recently spoke with Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.

evangel: How did you become interested in ministering to the homeless?
I gave my life to Christ at age 19 when I was in New Zealand with Youth With a Mission. There, God began to move my heart for the homeless. I believe it is the nature of the gospel. I got acquainted with the homeless, and while traveling I would spend my nights out on the street with them trying to engage them on a deeper level.

evangel: How did you come up with the idea of being among the homeless for a summer?
SEELEY: While at Southeastern, I got acquainted with the homeless in the area. A couple of years ago I grilled some burgers for eight of them, and since then my church continues to serve them meals every Friday night. But I still am trying to figure out the best approach to developing relationships with the homeless and erasing the line that separates us. The ministry approach, where we only serve meals once a week, at times separates us further from the poor because they become objects of our charity instead of part our community.

evangel: Thus you chose to live among them.
Making it more reciprocal is my goal, so I decided to hang with them for 10 weeks, staying in a tent community in the woods. In going into their territory, I put myself in a place of depending on certain people to help me. I didn’t know what to do. Through all this I was able to develop some genuine relationships.

evangel: Did the experience bust some myths you had?
The one-sided idea that I have something to give and they really don’t have anything to offer was broken. People say the homeless are lazy, but I went with them to the labor pools at 5 in the morning every day.

There would be monthlong stretches where they had no opportunity to work. It’s so hard because often they have felonies, which is almost a guarantee they won’t get a job elsewhere. Even when they do get work, it’s the dregs, and not consistent enough to provide enough for rent.

evangel: So you found some of the stereotypes to be untrue?
People sometimes say the homeless want to be homeless, or that they want to do drugs and alcohol. But their condition is the result of bad circumstances, bad family situations, no work. Despair hit when they couldn’t get back on their feet. As a result, some do drink and do drugs.

evangel: What surprised you the most about the experience?
I want to avoid making blanket statements, but some people blew me away with their virtue. I was amazed by one guy who had lost his job and for a whole year could find barely any work. He exercised tremendous patience and joy through it all.

The homeless go through immense trials and come out stronger for it. It causes them to grow. This particular man recently has lived with me and has taught me tons of stuff, including how to build an engine. In this way, we have both been able to share our gifts with one another.

evangel: Did you find a sense of community?
There is a lot of dysfunction in the homeless community as one might expect. I don’t want to romanticize it. However, dysfunction is not unique to the homeless; it exists within all spheres of society. Despite the dysfunction that is present in the homeless community, people tend to look out for each other even more so than do people who have plenty.

evangel: What lessons can you pass on to Christians who do have a roof over their head every night?
A church can take a personal approach to people, rather than always depending on a government agency to do everything. There is a lot of power in simply living out the gospel. If the Spirit leads a person to develop a relationship with just one homeless person, that’s a start. It can begin by taking that person out for coffee, then meeting on a weekly basis.

Once you become a resource for that person, you are no longer a stranger, but a friend. It requires us to go deeper than serving a meal somewhere and leaving. Once the barriers are broken down, you invite that friend over for dinner. You might even invite that person to stay in your apartment. It may not seem innate, but it’s something God calls some of us to do.

evangel: What does your future entail?
I will be enrolling in Southeastern’s master’s in counseling program. I want to stay invested in the homeless. I have an alcohol- and drug-free home where I am supporting people through drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

When I eventually do my master’s, I would like to have a house amongst the homeless where they can come onto the property and engage us on a more daily level. It would be a safe space for people to come off the street and participate in Bible studies and social services.

evangel: You have experienced God’s grace in your own life.
Most of my life I was pretty rebellious. Although I grew up in church, I was a cultural Christian. I got kicked out of a Christian school in junior high for smoking pot. The same thing happened at a Christian college before going to YWAM, where I received Christ. After being kicked out the second time, I realized I had a drug problem, and I began to seek God out.


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