[x_blockquote type=”left” style=”font-size: 100%;”]From the CROSS Blog – A periodic check-in from our CROSS Interns, who dedicate their summer to help guide visiting youth groups as they serve in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, children’s programs, and other agencies that serve our neighbors in need.[/x_blockquote]Let’s get one thing straight – I am not a hugger.
I consider myself a loving person but I am definitely not a hand-holding, hugging, kissing-on-the-cheek, snuggling, cuddling person… and yet the most striking moments of God’s kingdom this summer have been moments of physical touch and comfort.
For one week, I had the privilege to lead fifteen 4th and 5th grade girls from VBS out into Charlotte. One of my new favorite things about 4th and 5th graders is how they comfort one another. For many in my group, this experience was a first exposure to mission work. They had probably never spoken to a person with serious disabilities or a person experiencing homelessness, not unlike most people in our society, and I quickly learned that they impulsively reacted to discomfort by holding my hand. At random moments throughout the week, these 9 and 10 year olds would sneak up behind me and silently take my hand.This threw me for a loop. Not only did they want me to hold their hand, they wanted me to protect and comfort them as an adult leader. Well, I only have two hands. By Thursday, the girls had figured this out and, when both my hands were occupied, they instead began holding one another’s hands in moments of discomfort, depending on each other for support. That is God’s kingdom.
It took several more weeks for me to realize that our need to be held in God’s kingdom goes beyond 4th and 5th graders. While walking around uptown Charlotte with a group of 7th graders, we came across a homeless woman and three of her friends who shared their testimonies with us after we had offered some water bottles. In a very precious moment, ten 7th grade students and four homeless neighbors held hands to pray together in God’s kingdom right there on the streets of Charlotte.
When I looked up, three police officers were approaching us. Everyone was safe, and the police officers were not aggressive or violent towards our new friends, but told me privately that they were going to ‘look for somewhere they could stay’ and needed me to move my group away from the scene. I took my group across the street, but I knew that they were fully aware of what was happening.
Immediately, I took to the group to a nearby church to discuss what they witnessed. Our group discussion in that church was one of the most honest and profound I’d ever been a part of. Students surprised me with their enticing and thought-provoking questions about homelessness and unjust arrests as well as their candid observations of homelessness. We rode the bus back to Myers Park Pres. and as I turned to leave my group for the day, one of the students ran back to give me a hug, saying nothing. This kid was one of the toughest in my group. Though I knew it was uncharacteristic, I thought little of it.
Later that evening, I began to realize just how terrified some of my kids must have felt. After weeks of speaking with and walking among homeless neighbors, I had become somewhat numb to the fact that most people have limited, if any, experience with homelessness. I realized that most people (especially middle schoolers) have never:
- interacted on a personal level with a homeless man or woman
- listened to an honest testimony from a homeless man or woman
- witnessed the arrest of someone they have connected and prayed with
These are intimidating ‘firsts’, yet my group showed little fear or discomfort. As my hindsight grew clearer, that silent and unexpected hug made so much more sense. Even one of my more fearless kids needed that hug, that feeling of protection and comfort. As our devotional speaker and friend Freddie Sherrill always says, “Real men show emotions. Real men cry.” We are all real people, neighbors to one another and equal in God’s eyes. We all have emotions and we all feel vulnerable and we all need a hug or hand-hold every once in a while. We all deserve to be held in God’s kingdom.
Emily Hinshaw is one of seven CROSS Interns living in the Cornerstone house this summer. CROSS Interns dedicate their summer to help guide youth groups as they serve in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, children’s programs, and other agencies that serve our neighbors in need.