What if you had no home? No job, no money, and no home. And no one in your family willing to step up and provide a meal or a warm place to stay. What would you do? Where would you go for help? Who would you depend on?
I recently watched a documentary called “Tent City, USA”. It’s about a group of homeless people living in Nashville near a river. With the help of a local church, they had built up an impressive village of tents and make-shift shelters, welcoming anyone who needed a place to stay as long as they didn’t do drugs, would keep their area clean, and were willing to abide by the rules of Tent City. The pastor of the church and one lay person were (and remain) very involved with the residents of Tent City, helping organize regular meetings, helping with maintenence and making the needs of the residents known to their church and community. Things were going quite well for Tent City. Well, they were until the flood hit.
In 2010, the river flooded, destroying everything. With what they could gather, the residents of Tent City scrambled to escape. They were put up in hotel rooms with their meagre belongings, displaced, without even a makeshift tent to call their own. Soon enough however, a member of the Nashville church’s congregation offered some land outside of the city, in a small town called Antioch. It wouldn’t be a permanent fix — without vehicles, Tent City residents would need to be within walking distance of food banks and job opportunities — but it would work temporarily until something in town could be found. And so, with tents, sleeping bags, and food donated by the Nashville church, the homeless once more had a place to call home. The plan was to stay for up to 6 months, or until they could find suitable land in Nashville.
They had just started to settle in when the townspeople of Antioch took notice. It didn’t take long for an opposition to their presence to begin to organize. All under the leadership of … a church. A church in Antioch with a beautiful building and a well-spoken preacher decided to take on Tent City. And they were successful. They said they had too many homeless people already. They said they didn’t want any more around. Within a month, Tent City residents packed up and left to escape the judgement, the rejection and the intolerance of the church.
The story doesn’t end there. Many of the homeless people featured in the documentary were able to find government-subsidized housing, schooling, and one woman even landed a position on the Nashville town council’s Committee for Homelessness.
But for me, I could only see the disparity between these two churches. Both were involved in some way with Nashville’s Tent City residents, both were given an opportunity to serve and love, and they each responded in completely different ways.
Which church would I rather be a part of? The Nashville church that donated tents, labour, food, water, sleeping bags, and supplies, enabled their pastor to spend time at Tent City, provided land when the residents needed it, and helped them move when they weren’t wanted? Or the Antioch church that, even though the people were provided for, took a stand against their very presence with the excuse that their resources were already stretched too thin? I don’t know what the doctrine of each of the churches is, and I don’t know if I would be able to stand with either one of them when it comes to a question of belief. I do know, however, that the Nashville church served (and continues to serve) the way Jesus did and would have us do. Working and living alongside those that need our help, providing the necessities of life before preaching the gospel, and accepting people for who they are, the way God accepts us — that’s the kind of church I’d rather be a part of. But if we are Christ-followers, we should all be following His lead, no matter what church we go to.
To the film maker’s credit, this juxtaposition wasn’t dwelt on or made into the drama it could have been. But it does beg the question — what kind of church are we?
Megan is a WAHM to 3 (and then some) kids, who spends the majority of her time working as an Administrative Assistant, blogging and washing dishes. She loves to write about her adventures in parenting, running a home daycare, adoption and whatever else strikes her fancy!