It was 1998 and our family didn't have a home. We were traveling full time in a white Ford van and we pitched our tent all over the country. When we arrived in Texas, the National Park was our new home. I think it was Lyndon Johnson Historical National Park. I wonder how many people are there today?
We cooked on a stove each night and I traveled into the city each day. One of the biggest needs in Austin, at the time, was the street kids on the main drag. That was a big reason we went there in the first place.
This week there are tens of thousands of new homeless people in Texas. They are living in tents, churches, stadiums, vans, stranger's homes and other creative housing environments. Obviously, its harder for them than for us - they lost everything very quickly, while we had time to get our things together. But when our kids watch the families on TV that no longer have a home, they remember the many times we have slept at "Camp Walmart", the side of the road, a mud hut, a tent in a camping park, or a van down by the river. And those memories are often wonderful, despite the hardship - we have experienced an intimacy as a family more often when we were without possessions and clinging to the grace of God than when we had a solid roof over our heads.
Jesus was a refugee, fleeing Judea for his life and ending up in Egypt. Even during his ministry years, he often had no place to lay his head. The people of God have often found themselves living in tents or booths, on pilgrimage for years, running for their lives, or moved out by the Spirit of God. A spirituality strong enough to contain temporary homelessness finds a base in the Bible, as well as among millions of people around the world who have found God draw closer in times of transition and need of shelter.
Children and families need to know that its OK to live in a tent. Or sleep on a church floor. I still end up on floors. In the past week, I have slept on an airport floor (Luton Airport, London) on the floor of a ferry (Orkney to Aberdeen) and in a tent for 4 nights (Greenbelt). Its OK to live in a tent. Its not a permanent solution. But its not as abnormal as people in a wealthy country think.
We pray for Katrina's children, new immigrants from the Gulf Coast and refugees and reluctant visitors to the state of Texas. We pray that they will also experience the closeness of God and each other during the uncertainty of shifting homes and lives. We pray for Austin First Baptist Church (our home church) who have been ministering to homeless people for many years but who probably have their hands full. And for Austin based Global Impact who are really busy getting resources to the right people. And my friends at Ecclesia Houston who are putting together a displaced children's home by linking houses. And the many others. And the BGCT.
Big week for Texas this week. Very big week.