Digging up possibilities

Kim See

Living out God’s love by loving homeless, poor

Reverend Jean Kim was born in North Korea and took refuge in South Korea when she was just 11 years old. For most of her life, she has been working with and serving the homeless. As the founder and co-founder of 10 missions programs, she holds a firm belief that each homeless person is created in the image of God, just like everyone else.

No matter how bad the situation, whether they are abusive or have a substance problem, Kim believes every homeless person, every person in general, has God-given potential and possibilities.
“My mission is to dig them out, help them use them at their fullest extent, and make them successful in ending their poverty and homeless,” she said. “Homelessness is not somebody else’s problem.”

In light of Tent City Three’s approaching move-in day, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Sara Koenig served as moderator for a panel discussion on homelessness and why working with the homeless matters. The discussion took place on Thursday, Oct. 26, in Demaray 150 and began at 11:10 a.m.

As part of the panel, Kim joined Union Gospel Mission President Jeff Lilley, Reverend Jean Kim from the Jean Kim Foundation and New Horizons Executive Director Mary Steele, all homeless advocates.

Ribbing has lived in Seattle for about three and a half years.

Moving from Washington, D.C., Ribbing took a position as a senior writer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he managed the executive writing team, writing for Bill Gates and other senior executives.

He loves Seattle and hopes to remain here for as long as possible, but something about the city stood out to him. Amidst the backdrop of a city generating new growth and new wealth, Ribbing couldn’t help but notice a homelessness issue.

“One of the things that struck me,” he said, “was this really stark and growing divide between affluence and opportunity on one end, entrenched despair and poverty on the other hand.”

He believes dealing with the presence of genuine poverty and desperation to be a moral challenge for Seattle and the surrounding region.

While the homeless may have made choices that lead to homelessness, nobody stops, wakes up in the morning and decides to be homeless, added Lilley.

In his earlier years, Lilley did not see himself working with the homeless. He explained that the Lord called out to him and told him he needed to go to Seattle because there were people there who needed his help.

“He invited me into the work where he already was, what he was already doing. It was at that point I realized,” he explained, “my obedience, my faith in him, my faith in that voice that the spirit of God is calling me into these places I wouldn’t normally go, was the biggest gift he could give me.”

However, not everyone is called to work with the homeless, Steele pointed out, but every Christian is called to see Jesus in everyone.

Steele works for New Horizons, an organization she dubbed as the “younger brother” of Union Gospel Mission. There, they specifically cater to the homeless youth, those aged between 13 and 24 years old.

“We take young people where they’re at and we offer the gospel with no strings attached,” she said.

She recalls one incident when the person in charge of finance was in early one morning and was talking to a young person “clearly in an altered state.” The kid threw up all over her finance guy.

Thankfully, the organization has plenty of extra clothing, so the finance guy changed and put his clothes in the washer found in the building. He came back later to find that his jeans were missing.

He then saw his jeans on another younger person later in the day, but he did not reproach them. Instead, he approached them and said, “Hey, did you get this out of the dryer?”

According to Steele, the young person lashed out, swearing, using language that would make even her teenage son embarrassed.

Working with the homeless is hard work, she explained. It is hard work, but it is also work that gives hope to the homeless and to the people working with the homeless.

“Faith is what allows us to do our work,” she said.

Ribbing is genuinely concerned, however, about the state of Christianity in this political context. There are those of the Christian faith who embrace a worldview and a politics that is closer to contempt than it is to compassion when it comes to those from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, he described.

“And I think that we, as Christians, should look at this as something of a existential crises,” Ribbing said.

When seeing another person in need, Lilley added, the best thing to do is to “actually respond to that voice that’s whispering to us, ‘Do something. Move towards them.’ And as you move towards them, it’s going to be messy. It may not turn out the way you think.”

There is the concern that the homeless believes that God has abandoned them, and that is why they are in their current situation. Kim, however, emphasized that love is the best proof that they have not been abandoned.

“We are it,” she said, referring to the idea that God’s love is channeled through Christians and those who work with the homeless.

“For them to see the love of God means we need to love them. So, the first thing we can do is just look them in the eye, talk to them and get to know their story, and then stick around through the messiness,” Lilley said. “What we love about God is that through the messiness, he’s stuck around.”