Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Under the Overpass - book review

In May I was in downtown Portland, Oregon. I got out of my car, put money in the meter and headed towards the store I wanted to visit. Just as I turned away from my car, I saw a man look around, reach into the garbage, take the top off of a coffee cup, throw the lid back in the garbage and start drinking the cold, stale, coffee inside. It all happened so quickly, that I couldn’t even think, but my heart still breaks when I think of it. The encounter (or lack thereof) reminded me of a book I’d heard about which had been on my “list of books to read” for awhile - Under the Overpass. It was time to read it.

I read a lot of books. I enjoy lots of different genres but there are three books that have made a significant impact on my life; Safely Home, a novel by Randy Alcorn; Same Kind of Different as Me, a true story by Denver Moore and Ron Hall; and my latest read, Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski.

Under the Overpass is the story of Mike, and his friend, Sam, who decided to enter the world of the homeless in America. They both come from Christian homes, and have attended private Christian colleges. Money wasn’t the reason they chose to be homeless. Mike made this decision one Sunday after hearing a sermon that challenged what his faith really meant to him. Sam felt God’s call to join Mike in his journey.

I knew the premise of the book before I started, of course, but when I came to the section where Mike describes the phone call to his parents, informing them of his plan, I sat up and took notice. As a parent of three boys I can say that none of them have ever come up with any idea as stupid as living on the streets. Thank God! I give Mike’s parents a lot of credit. I might have used handcuffs and brain-washing to change my son’s mind, given the same situation.

To their credit, Mike and Sam did have a plan. They did research, had advisers, and, most importantly, an end date. What they ended up with is one incredible story, and a faith deeper than many of us will ever know. Check out this video to learn more about their story.

Under the Overpass changed the way I think about the homeless. Most of us have heard the advice, “don’t give money to the homeless, it only encourages their drug and/or drinking habit.” And, I think Mike would agree, in general, with that advice. But that doesn’t mean they are to be ignored. I am embarrassed to say that my decision not to hand over cash has turned me into a person who walks past with my head turned the other direction because I don’t want to stare and I don’t know what to say. I remember a few years ago, when we were in Vancouver, WA, I saw a homeless man with a sign that said, “let me tell you my story.” Even though John was with me, the sun was still up, and the street was crowded with people, I still didn’t take the time to stop. That sign, and the vision of the man holding it, still haunts me.

Interestingly enough, Mike says that Christians are the worst offenders when they encounter a homeless person. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs? As a result of Mike’s story, I’ve determined that I can never again look away. (When my mother reads this, she’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end again, but she’s getting used to me doing crazy things.) I’ve purchased some Subway gift certificates, and put together Ziploc bags with water, granola bars, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shampoo to give to the homeless. In God’s incredible timing, this idea was sent via email from womensministry.net WHILE I was reading Under the Overpass. My mom will be pleased to know that I’m not actually going out searching for homeless people . . . yet . . . though I might should those granola bars near their expiration date. But, should I encounter someone in need, I want to be prepared to offer some food, some clean water, a smile, and a little hope.

Under the Overpass is a life changing book. It will challenge the way you think, the actions you take, and your faith as you know it today.

2 comments:

Jamie E said...

It takes so little, a smile, a nod. We pass by certain corners and once in awhile I actually remember to bring a box of granola bars. It shows the kids so much, just to love someone, they always ask me about why the person is there and I tell them to wave-God loves them too. I personally do not think that someone would be out there begging unless they had to, or felt they had to. I've seen people run up onto the curb in their vehicles, like they are going to hit the person and peel out laughing. Of course this is in the worst parts of town. I think I am going to attempt to read this book, thanks for the suggestion.

Jami said...

What a great idea. I am so going to put a couple of those packs together. I drive through downtown Saint Paul every week for school and end up sitting at lights right next to the homeless with their signs and I feel guilty but am so torn on what to do!