The following is a fictional story. It is based on real people and real situations that have had a deep and lasting impact on me. Both for the sake of privacy and my faulty memory, I felt the need for this disclaimer. Everything in this story has happened, just the characters and circumstances have been altered. It is inspired by a post @AyaKatz on dropping out of the system, homelessness, and other such issues. You can read the original post here

The story starts in Chicago on a Saturday night. A few friends and I crammed ourselves in a car and drove three hours to visit the Windy City. With no more than about $100 between all four of us, I am not sure what we planned on doing for the night, but we were having fun wandering around and taking in the sites. Sadly much of what I saw were churches with bars on the windows. I am not sure why that scene stood out to me then. In fact, I quickly forgot all about the bars on the church windows. It wasn't until a few years later that I would be reminded.

His name was Tim. He wasn't much younger than me. At 25, he was not the typical homeless person. We never really got into his story. He didn't want to talk much. I thought it would be better not to push the issue, but simply be there as a friend. We met while I was walking the streets, praying for people. This isn't your usual street preacher business with a megaphone yelling at people going to hell. A small car load of friends drove to the city every Friday to pray silently as we walked the streets. As the weeks and months went by, we began to see how our hearts were changing. We saw not only our fellow man differently, but also ourselves. We began to see how the church has done a lot of wrong to people.

Tim was ashamed at his situation. He rarely panhandled. He mostly tried to blend in with the college crowd and try to mooch off the academic world. He had lived in 4 dorms at 3 Universities, all without being a student. He even ate in the cafeteria. When I first met him, I thought he was a student. He was smart, real smart. We would discuss some of the biggest issues of the day. He always had a smart ass comment to say that shut me up. He hated Christians. He saw them as one of the major problems. He joked that if Hitler would have targeted Christians instead of Jews that the world would have just let him do his thing. For some reason though he liked me.

One night we were walking and turned down one particular street that had 4 churches on it. They were all blocks apart and we couldn't help but notice how barren they looked on this Friday night. It was then that Tim asked me why they are locked. He said that he needed a place to sleep and these churches were all locked. He went on and on about how they are here to help people, but not when people really need it. He would be willing to go into a church to sleep. Not to listen to some chump talk to him about a Jew hanging on a tree, but because he was tired and needed to sleep. He said he wouldn't even mind if it was only on the floor or in the pew. It was then that he told me about his time living in and out of homeless shelters. He once was addicted to drugs and caused his whole family to turn away from him. He tried to quit. Not having anywhere to stay he went to a shelter. He stayed clean for a couple of months. He had a job and was doing well. He went to his parents and asked if he could move back in. They called the cops and had him taken away for trespassing. He was so upset that he started using again. He shared with me that it is so easy to get drugs in the shelter. Everyone has drugs, even those that don't use. It's easier to find drugs on the street than it is to pee or find somewhere to store your belongings. He tried to quit again. This time he was successful. It was staying out of shelters that kept him clean.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I stood and listened, trying to hold back tears. After he was done telling me his story, he again pointed to these churches and asked why they were all locked. I was reminded of the churches in Chicago years before and how they were not only locked, but had bars on their windows. It was then that I did cry. With tears rolling down my face I apologized. I said I didn't know but I would find him a church that never locked it's doors. Of all the lessons and lectures I heard at Bible college, this was the one that shaped me the most. My philosophy of ministry and of life can be seen as stemming from the idea of having a church that never locks its doors.