Under the Overpass: A journey of faith on the streets of America
By Mike Yankoski; forward by Ryan Dobson
There’s an old Indian proverb that says you can’t know a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins. In 2005, two college students set out to walk many miles without moccasins, spending five months living on the streets in cities across America to get a perspective on homelessness, faith and the American church. Their experience is chronicled in “Under The Overpass” (Multnomah).
The idea came to Mike Yankoski one Sunday morning when his pastor delivered a sermon on “being the Christian you say you are.” Desiring to live a life fully dependent on God, Yankoski decided to leave his comfortable middle class college student lifestyle and become homeless for several months. He found a traveling partner in another college student, Sam Purvis, and they began their adventure by spending 30 days in a rescue mission to get acclimated to the homeless life.
Over the next five months, they spent time in Denver; Washington, DC; Portland, WA; San Francisco; Phoenix; and San Diego, sleeping on the streets, scrounging for food in dumpsters, and depending on rescue missions and the kindness of strangers for survival. While the two set out to pursue a life fully dependent on God for food, shelter and basic necessities, in the end they also experienced a revelation about how the American church responds to the homeless, learning first-hand that Christians are often quick to speak but slow to act.
They watched Christians sit in fast food restaurants and pray before their meal while ignoring the obviously hungry duo sitting just feet away. They were met with signs on churches saying “No Trespassing, Church Business Only” and once were kicked off a church property while they sat on the lawn and read their Bibles. They were told by well-meaning Christians that they’d be prayed for, with no offer of tangible help.
What they found on the streets, however, were fellow homeless people who shared what little they had, were truly grateful for the unexpected gifts they received, and in many cases were Christians who had lost hope. They saw individual Christians reaching out to the homeless and staff at rescue missions who did the best they could to meet their needs.
Yankoski encourages Christians to get involved in their local mission. He tells about a group of young, bright-eyed high school students who showed up for a week to volunteer at a homeless shelter, writing: “Something critical is missing in the places that care for the broken and needy if the only people there are also broken and needy. Without the presence of people in the rescue missions whose lives are not defined by addiction, alcoholism, crime, and mental illness, there is little positive influence. Chaplains and pastors can only spread themselves so far.” The students brought hope where there often is none.
“Under The Overpass” is an eye-opening look at the homeless with solid suggestions on how a Christian can respond. For example, who among us hasn’t walked by panhandlers on the streets, debating whether to drop a few coins in their hat? Yankoski says that truth be told the money is likely used for drugs or alcohol, and suggests giving food coupons or grocery store gift certificates instead, or even better, taking time to buy the person a meal. What most people on the streets long for is a personal connection, someone to give them a glimmer of hope that they are loved.
Which, if you think about it, is exactly what Jesus commands us to do.
For more information, visit http://www.undertheoverpass.com
Joanne Brokaw covers entertainment for Christian and community papers across the U.S. and Canada. Visit her online at www.joannebrokaw.com.
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