A local church gave 17 men the chance to see how the homeless live the past weekend.
At the corner of Old Lebanon Dirt Road and Chandler Road, Global Vision Bible Church began services as usual on Sunday.
Well groomed, suit-clad men readied video cameras and audio equipment in a booth to the right of the pulpit, while flat panel televisions mounted high on the walls scrolled a countdown timer to alert the congregation services are about to begin.
Everything was business as usual this morning, barring the 17 homeless men that were sitting behind the pulpit in chairs typically reserved for the church’s choir.
In stark contrast to the other church members, the men behind the pulpit were unshaven, dirty, and dressed in clothes that had not been laundered.
A few men sat with their heads tilted back, eyes closed, as if here in this climate controlled haven free of hardships, they were relaxing for the first moment in days.
Fortunately for these 17 men, their lives as homeless citizens were lived with an expiration date.
They were all participants in Global Vision’s second annual Homeless Experience.
The Homeless Experience, organized by Pastor Greg Locke, is a nearly 48 hour immersion exercise in which church members volunteer to live as the homeless live in downtown Nashville for a weekend.
This year proved to have an increase in interest over last year’s Homeless Experience, with the group expanding from 13 members in 2011 to 17 members in 2012.
Three of the men that partook in the Experience this year were not members at Global Vision.
One came with a friend that is a member. Two came from Cincinnati after they saw Pastor Locke post an open invitation for the Experience on Twitter.
Regardless of where they came from, all these men had one common goal: to subject themselves to great poverty, loneliness and homelessness, so that they can better empathize with the less fortunate and understand how to more effectively minister to the homeless of Nashville.
All 17 men, ranging in ages from 16-58, were dropped off downtown Friday evening.
The only possessions they were allowed to have was the clothes on their backs and a photo ID.
The men spent Friday evening scattered on street corners begging passersby for any spare change they could offer.
Michael Light recalls his initial task when the group was dropped off downtown.
“We got down there and the first humiliating part was having to rummage through the trash to get a cup [to collect change in]. I wouldn’t even do it at first. Basil had to do it for me.”
Light is referring to fellow participant Basil Coffey, who described being homeless as “unbearable.” Coffey states, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be out there every day. The whole time we’re out there, we know we’re going to come back [on Sunday]… And it was hard enough. I was tempted to walk home.”
The group settled under a downtown bridge Friday night.
Some slept on rocks while others tried resting on broken down cardboard, but the general result was very little sleep.
Saturday began with a 5-mile group trek for food that resulted in a donation of, as 16-year old Isaac Wright of Cincinnati describes, what had to be “12 pounds of bologna.” Wright goes on to say, “I hate bologna, but I have never loved it so much as this weekend.”
Being the youngest member of the group did not spare Isaac Wright from the experience all the men shared. He recounts, “I had a person come by, throw a quarter on the ground, and say ‘crawl out and get it’. I had a lady come by and dump her ice tea in my cup, then laugh like it was no big deal.” Pastor Locke estimates that the group as a whole collected between $50 and $60 over the weekend to feed the 17 members in their group, which was not enough.
Although the emotional testimony of the group paints a picture of gratitude for the experience rather than one of regret, all the participants were more than ready to return to Global Vision Sunday morning to partake in a hot breakfast prepared for them by friends and family and to share their testimony with the congregation.
Matt Pop’s emotional portrayal of the Homeless Experience accurately depicts the consensus of the whole group.
He explains, “I’m broken. [The homeless] are hurting bad. And there’s thousands and thousands of them out there. I know how they feel now. I know how they feel in their hearts. They’re degraded. They’re deprived. They’re lonely.” Pop goes on to say, “They deserve more. I don’t have anything, but I want to give them everything I’ve got. I don’t need it. I’ve got everything I need.”
The 2012 participants in The Homeless Experience with Global Vision Bible Church were Basil Coffey, Matt Pop, Johnny Martin, Jarrod Almond, Matt Korte, Isaac Wright, Anthony Hicks, Shannon Powell, Clint Roney, Kevin Ledbetter, Al Cross, Chris Clark, Michael Light, John Thompson, Nick Godwin, Jason Hill, and Greg Locke.
For more information on Global Vision and to watch video of The Homeless Experience testimonials, visit www.globalvisionbc.com