Most Christians Don’t Listen to ‘Jazz’

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Misconceptions When Serving Homeless People

Written by Brandt Russo

About a year back, I was in New Orleans with a youth group that wanted to learn how to serve the homeless. Earlier that day, they had made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and brought apples and water hoping it would bring a smile and some hope to someone with an empty stomach. Being that I’d spent a year homeless to better understand the homeless and urban poor, I get asked often to take groups out to teach them how to love practically.

brandtrusso2This particular time broke my heart. One of the girls from the group approached a lovely black elderly fellow we called Jazz. Jazz was about 60, and the wrinkles on his face told many stories if you stared long enough. Jazz played the sax in the French Quarter every day hoping to make enough to spend the night in the local shelter (yes they charge every night after week’s free stay). “Hungry, anything helps” read his tattered cardboard sign, dampened by the morning rain. She walked up without asking him his name or how he was and handed him an apple. With a grin, he politely refused and she walked away grumbling something under her breath.

When I approached her to ask her what she was upset about, she had already started telling her friends that “all that homeless man wanted was money. He is probably an alcoholic.” I asked her to walk back with me, and as I walked up to Jazz I offered him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the biggest, TOOTHLESS smile came on his face as he thanked us for the sandwich. You see, Jazz hadn’t been able to eat an apple since his teeth had been knocked out in a street fight twelve years back. It’s incredible the stories you will hear if you take the time to get to know these beautiful, broken street people. This girl had walked away changed.

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I find it simply amazing the chasm between class lines, especially in the “Christian” world. Jesus had this amazing idea that if you mix class lines, they tend to dissolve. That if we fall in love with someone’s heart, they are no longer homeless in our eyes, but become family. It’s a beautiful transition that happens when we take the time to extend ourselves to those whom we are “most afraid” of . If you were to take a group of kids from the ghetto camping in the woods, they would be terrified of every sound, praying not to get eaten by a bear. If we were to take a group of suburban kids to the ghetto, the same would happen (replacing the bear with a gunshot). We are all so afraid of what we don’t know, and sadly, we are usually more afraid of our preconceived ideas of that fear than we are of the “fear” itself.

sleepThe media has done wonders dehumanizing the poor, so it’s no wonder that we do all we can to ignore them. If you walk downtown, don’t make eye contact, they say. Don’t carry cash. Walk on the opposite side of the street. It’s amazing the lengths we take to avoid the very people Jesus spent His life serving. I think what we tend to forget is that every “poor” person is somebody’s loved one. A grandfather or grandmother, son or daughter. We live our lives for our own flesh and blood, and would do ANYTHING we can to fix their broken lives, and yet Jesus made it clear that we are ALL FAMILY.

In Genesis 1:27 (Message), it says God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature”. We are all sons and daughters of the creator of this world, all as splendid as the sun and worthy of honor and love. My life has been changed, not only by the stories of these broken people, but by sharing in their joys and sufferings. I’ve found Jesus in the eyes of many a homeless person. We can’t ignore the poor, because as Mother Teresa said, “In the poor, we find Jesus in His most distressing disguise.” Be love to someone today, and find your own “Jazz.” It will change everything.


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  1. Selah says:

    man, I probably would have done the same thing that girl did, grumbling and all. Some of my friends and I made a whole bunch of food and fed some of the homeless people in our downtown a few weeks ago. We were like, crazy scared because they acctually were all drunk, but they were really happy and it was super cool.

  2. Reah says:

    THAT IS SO TRUE, YOU CAN’T REALLY KNOW SOMEONE UNLESS YOU GET TO KNOW THEM
    BY BEING A FRIEND TO THE FRIENDLESS OR THE HOMELESS OR WHOEVER THEY MIGHT BE
    I’VE ALWAYS TRIED TO BE A FRIEND, WITH GODS HELP, TO THOSE WHO DIDN’T HAVE MANY FRIENDS OR WERE HARD TO GET TO KNOW OR TOO SHY TO MAKE FRIENDS ON THEIR OWN
    THANK YOU FOR THIS STORY, IT WAS A TRUE EYE OPENER
    REAH

  3. Reah says:

    OH, BY THE WAY I AM A CHRISTIAN AND I LOVE TO LISTEN TO JAZZ!

  4. Jaymi says:

    My husband and I feed the homeless every Saturday with a group from our church. I loved this article because if I had been as good of a writer I would write something similar to this. We took in a homeless man to live with us. His name was Corey. He lived with us close to a year and throughout the first few days we were somewhat afraid of what would happen. We knew him from feeding him for a couple months and he lived under a bridge. He was so young and had big dreams, but his addictions had torn those dreams right out from under him. We feared we would never have the strength or understanding to help him overcome the things he struggled with. However, a year later he has his own place, a steady job, and he is thriving in a program in Atlanta. I understand the fear that people have of the unknown, but I must agree. These are the very people Jesus hung out with and served. Who are we to make excuses and be frightened away from the very things Christ has called us to do? I believe God has big plans for everyone and so many people these days look at the homeless as if they are from a different world. Once upon a time they were a scared little child. They had a warm home with a family and due to unknown circumstances they had a rough time and now the world is their home. I pray for people to stand up and be willing to be the hands and feet of Christ and lose the fear that comes with doing the very things Christ has called us to do!!

  5. Lizzy says:

    wow this is Awesome!

  6. Jessica says:

    LOVED THIS ARTICLE!!! A few weeks ago my family and I went to New Orleans on a mission trip. One of the days we were there, we passed out sandwiches to the homeless around the French Quarter. I had done homeless ministry for several years in my youth so I was pretty comfortable, and my husband, 4 kids, and best friend, all who were with me, took their cues from me. No one was scared, no person we spoke to was “scary” and we sat down on the pavement with them as we talked, held their hands as we prayed, laughed, and cried right along with them. It was a powerful experience for us all, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of James, Crystal, Myron, Zoe, and “Catfish.”

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