My Experience Living Among the Homeless – by Tim Cain

In this post Pastor Tim Cain, a member of the TCTN National Lead Team, shares his story about living among the homeless.  Tim is the lead pastor at Kaleo Church in El Cajon and he has a vibrant ministry among the homeless, including a Friday night “homeless” bible study.

This post originally appeared on Kaleo’s website.

Living Among the Homeless

Aug 21, 2010

I think the sleepless nights are getting to Aaron.  He woke up in the middle of the night and shoved my legs and pointed at me and yelled, “You’re such a jerk, Tim.”  I knew that wasn’t like Aaron at all so I went out on a limb and said, “Dude, it was all a dream; I have been sleeping here the whole time.”  Finally he realized that it was a dream, but there was definitely some uncomfortable moments while I waited for him to decide if it was a dream or not.

Thursday was a really long day.  We woke up at 5:30 am. and then went and sat at a bus stop while we waited for Chris to get up.  His spot is less visible than ours so he gets an extra hour or so of sleep.  Finally, we got tired of waiting for him and walked the 2 miles back to the library.  On the way there we got a call from the Union Tribune about doing a story.  We were really surprised, but said if they really wanted to they could come and talk to us.  We ended up spending a few hours talking to a man named Steve about why we were living on the streets.  He also interviewed Chris about what his thoughts about the whole situation was.  It was so amazing because we got to talk to him about our Friday night meals and what it was like to really be a family.  Chris shared about how skeptical he had been when he first heard about Friday nights and how at first he had refused to come.  And then finally one night he was hungry and figured he could stomach a Bible Study as long as he got a chance to eat some homemade spaghetti.  Since that first Friday night I can honestly say I have missed more Fridays than Chris has.  Chris shared that through his time with Kaleo he had come to a personal relationship with Jesus.  A relationship that has allowed him to remain hopeful and stay away from trouble even though he has been living on the street for the past year and half.

More about Chris

Chris is seriously an amazing story.  More bad things have happened to him than I can even count, but each time when he feels like running back to a drink he gives someone a call on their cell phone and asks them to tell him something beautiful about Jesus.  We have had some really special times on the phone talking about our Savior.  I will never forget the night his Father died.  He called and told me that his Dad had passed away.  I asked him what he was going to do that night and he said “Talk to a few more people in his family and then head back to his spot for the night.”  I couldn’t even fathom that.  I just had the picture of him curled up on his side on some cardboard by himself, and it was more than I could take.  Abbey and I were on a date, but I asked her if we could go and get Chris and she said we could.  We picked him up, and we had him over and played a board game that he likes and listened to stories about his dad.  It was so amazing to be able to share with Chris during that time and hear about his dad and be like family together.  Chris shared with the reporter that after his Father died and he had to go back to Rhode Island for the funeral, he had the option of staying in Rhode Island with some people.  However, he chose to be come back to California instead.  Even though he knew he would still have to be homeless for a little while, he wanted to come back because his family was out here and part of that family was everyone that he had come to love at Kaleo.  It seriously brought tears to my eyes to hear Chris talk like that.  For Chris, church is not a service or an event, it is his family, and he showed it by choosing to come back home and be with us.  I praise God that he has let me get to know and share my life with guys like Chris.

Eating out of a Dumpster     

During our interview I got to eat my first food out of a dumpster.  It was still in its wrapper so I didn’t think it was too bad.  Chris had found a bunch of food, but I only found one item that didn’t say “Keep refrigerated.”  I picked that one.  Chris didn’t seem to take those warnings very seriously, so he was eating melted cheesecake and other things he had found.  It was about 100 degrees out so I really didn’t understand how that was ok, but there was no reasoning with him about it.

Later we told the story of God in the park to our biggest group, and it was amazing.  We learned about all the struggles in Joseph’s life and yet God was able to turn these terrible things into good.  Things that others meant for evil, things that Joseph must have felt were evil at the time, were used by God to save the world from famine.  What an amazing God, who is able to redeem even things that others have meant for evil.  We talked about how it wasn’t until the end that Joseph finally saw what God’s plan was.  While he was a slave in Egypt, while he was falsely sentenced to prison, while he lay forgotten there even after he had helped out others, all this while he must have wondered what God was doing.  Oh, but when you see the end of the story you know.  When you see the end of the story, you realize that God had his hand in every step.


Thursday was a great day of hearing people’s stories.  Everyone began to open up and we spent hours in the shade outside the library just listening to people tell us about life on the streets.  We heard about the good and the bad, the friends and the addictions, the camaraderie and the loneliness.  I spent a while talking to the dirtiest man I have ever seen.  He had feces all over his pants and shoes.  He was an old man, and he had been living like this since his divorce in 1991.  His parents had recently passed away, and he had lost contact with everyone else.  I sent Abbey to get him clothes and invited him to come shower at our home on Friday night.  However, once I left I never saw him again.  I can’t fathom how he survives out there or how long he could possibly have left.

Getting ready for another night

Thursday night when we got to our sleeping place, there were people there cleaning the building.  We had to wait a few hours before we were able to go so we walked over to a firestone and sat at a picnic table.  Our feet were so sore, and we were all really tired.  We thought if we just put our heads down, we could drift off to sleep.  However, after only a little while someone came up to us and told us that this was private property, and we had to move.  Again the restlessness, always moving, never able to simply sit and feel safe.  So we grabbed our packs and began walking back toward our place.  By God’s grace the people were pulling out of the driveway even as we walked up.  It was amazing that God used that man to tell us to move so that we could arrive at our place at the perfect time.  We were so tired that we immediately bedded down and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night I awoke with a start.  It sounded like a machine gun was going off only inches from my face.  I jumped back and hit myself on the building I was sleeping next to.  It turns out I had been sleeping with my face about six inches from a big sprinkler.  Like the kind that shoot water really far.  Anyway, I was sure that Will, who was only a few yards down from me had been startled as well, but he wasn’t.  In fact, he was still sleeping.  I couldn’t believe it.  I ended up waking him up because the water was actually getting all over him and still he was sleeping.  At that point I no longer felt that there was safety in numbers since Will didn’t even wake up even when massive sprinklers went off.  After about a half hour the sprinklers stopped and I was able to go back to sleep.  Now I know why Chris wouldn’t let us sleep on the grass the other night when we had complained that it would be way softer.

Writing a Sermon

Friday we woke up early and walked right to Starbucks (still 2 miles) in order to shower in the bathrooms and get started on tonight’s sermon.  I had been planning on writing something from the book of Ephesians but as I sat down to write there was simply one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind.  I really couldn’t understand why people were making a big deal about us being on the street for a week.  We loved talking to the Newspaper and later on Friday the News came out, but still I was really struggling with what was so special about it.  I was struggling for two reasons.  First, I knew I was doing this for one week while we had many in our church who had been doing this for years.  I knew their stories, and they were simply so much better than mine.  I began to realize people wanted to hear our story because we didn’t have to be homeless but instead we chose to be.  There seemed to be something unique about that.  The reporter had even asked us, “Have you ever heard of anyone else doing anything like what you are doing?”

As I sat down to write the sermon for this week it was that question that I decided to answer.  Because you see, I do know someone else who didn’t have to be homeless, but instead he chose to be.  And it is his story that has changed the history of the entire world.  It is his story that has brought hope to the hopeless, comfort to the suffering, freedom to the oppressed and good news to the poor.  The Son of God, not some local pastor, but the Son of God left his home in heaven and took on human flesh.  The Son of God was born outside.  The Son of God who created the heavens and the earth spent his first night lying in a trough that animals ate out of.  And what I love about his homelessness is that it achieved something.  You see our Savior came to make the end of homelessness possible.  For all his people, our savior has come to bear their homelessness.  He has experienced their loneliness, their suffering, their agony, and he has done it all so that all who would believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

I can’t get over that.  I simply can’t get over the Son of God, who created everything, becoming homeless to save sinful people like me.  He left his home knowing that it would end in his suffering and death.  In fact, he left his home in order to die.  The few times I was able to go to a Bible study and sit in a home for a few hours, I never wanted to leave.  And each time I would leave the house to walk back to our spot I would think about our amazing savior.  Oh, he left all his comfort, more comfort than we have ever known in order to bear all our suffering, more suffering than we can ever imagine.  What a savior.  It is His story that I am going to talk about tonight because it is His story that is truly good news to the poor.

By Tim Cain