Written by Dan Baer
Dale walked into the Mission with a furtive glance over his shoulder. He was skittish, on edge from the millions of thoughts certainly racing through his head. Dale was homeless, living a life of constant vigilance and defensiveness. Every day Dale had to be mindful of the consequences of normal human choices. If Dale fell asleep, what would happen to his belongings, his person? If Dale needed to leave his tent to get food or find a bathroom, would he return to anything left at all? If Dale walked down the street, or made eye contact with another human being, what would they think, say, do to him?
It was no surprise then that Dale had a hard time just being at the Mission at all. His life had horrifically been trained to be watchful at all times, ready to fight tooth and nail at the drop of a hat. He didn’t trust, didn’t believe the best, didn’t see others as friends, but enemies. These beliefs weren’t misguided either. They were born from years of seeing the worst in others come to fruition, often at the cost of Dale’s own wellbeing.
At the Nathaniel Mission, we know well that our neighbors and friends like Dale often feel disconnected from any sense of security or safety. Our basic human desire for stability and peace is supplanted by strife and constant crisis in their lives. So our efforts, as small or insignificant as they seem, have to continually be built upon the foundation of establishing a safe and supportive space for our friends at the Mission. This is our second guiding principle at the Nathaniel Mission, birthed out of the first which calls us to view all people worthy of immeasurable value. To create a safe and supportive space for our neighbors is the attempt to reverse in simple ways the worldview of those continually marginalized and oppressed amongst us, like our friend Dale.
It took time, but conversation after conversation, prayer after prayer, welcome after welcome, Dale began to change. His demeanor began to relax, he became able to maintain eye contact, and he gradually opened up more and more to the staff and volunteers. Before our eyes, a safe and supportive space was transforming Dale from a frightened and angry man into a friend, open and kind. Dale became himself, not the shell of a man on guard, but the honest, vulnerable, real Dale we had been hoping to meet. We heard his stories, watched as he cried, and embraced him with genuine compassion as our brother. Dale gave us permission to know the deeper things of his soul because he felt safe. Safe enough to share, supported in grace and love to let us in. And in those tender moments, Dale saw a new world open before him.
This world can be cruel and cold, especially if you find yourself on the outside looking in as many of our neighbors do.But it need not be so.Under the shelter of God’s gracious presence, all are welcomed.All are safe.We pray that the Nathaniel Mission is the same safe haven, the same sanctuary, to our neighbors every day.We pray to be guided by acceptance, support, and compassion that others might be welcomed to let their guard down, feel secure, and be themselves amongst us. And on those days, in those sweet moments, the Kingdom of God is made real for all of us together.
Dan Baer, Executive Director
Ordained Elder of the United Methodist Church, Masters of Divinity Degree from Ashland Theological Seminary
Lover of food, fun, friends, and football