Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America

 Under the Overpass is the story of two men who intentionally decided to live on the streets of America so they could better relate to and understand the homeless population of our country and see how the church is relating to them. The book was originally published in 2005 and this copy is an updated version of the original with Francis Chan writing a forward. I wanted to read this book mostly because it appeared to be unlike anything I have ever read before. I wanted to hear what they learned on the streets.

I must say, I am a bit skeptical when it comes to the homeless. Mike Yankoski acknowledges towards the end of the book that most people think the homeless are on the streets by choice. I guess I am (was) one of them. I guess I have, somewhat wrongly, attributed their life on the streets as a result of years of bad choices, like drugs and alcohol. Much of his book would do little to reverse that thought in my mind. It seemed like most cities where Mike and Sam traveled, the people they spent time with were high or drunk.

However, I guess what I took from this book is that not ALL of those on the streets are like that. Some are there because of horrible situations. Some are there because their dad had beaten them silly (the story of Nikki on page 167 ripped my heart out). Some have never had a break in their life. And I walk past them as if they do not exist. Or even at the best times, I give money so they can be taken care of. Mike writes of the problem with only giving money: "That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation--it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters" (37). That so adequately describes the American church. We can give our money, but let's not get our hands dirty.

They left on their journey with the hopes of learning about the homeless, but also to learn what it means to trust and depend on God in all things. I do think this is something that I have not understood. And honestly, in my flesh, I am not sure I want to. In my spirit I do, but my flesh enjoys knowing where my head will rest tonight and where my next meal is coming from.

I went to Moody Bible Institute, living downtown Chicago, for three years. I came in contact with countless homeless people. I bought the occasional meal (probably reluctantly). But I often walked by them as if they did not exist. After reading this book, I hope I never look at someone asking for money the same way. I hope I will be more generous. I hope I can look past the external appearance and be willing to have a conversation with them. I hope I can see them as a man or woman who has been created in the Image of God. Mike writes, "If we as believers choose to forget that everyone--even the shrunken soul lying in the doorway--is made int eh image of God, can we say we know our Creator? If we respond to others based on their outward appearance, haven't we entirely missed the point of the gospel" (103)?

I appreciate at the end of the book, he gives what he thinks we should do when we encounter the homeless. If you want to know, read the book. In fact, if you live in a city context, you should read this book. You should read it because it will soften your hard heart.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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