Do you like hiking? How do you feel about taking a 7-mile hike? How do feel about adding 5-15 pounds in your backpack with toiletries, a sleeping bag, and a couple changes of clothes? How do you feel about doing that hike every single day?
This hike is, for many of our neighbors, a reality as they walk from place to place seeking shelter from the ever-changing Atlanta weather, trying to find a place to clean up, or trying to find a place to rest. Many of our neighbors experiencing homelessness have lived in this area for many years, some for even decades, and yet, we don’t know their names, refuse to see their faces, and prefer to fear them and further alienate them. The challenges of living in the streets are many – some of them obvious, and some of them not-so-obvious – and compassion is hardly ever found.
Virginia-Highland Church has a rich history, rooted in the pursuit of justice and the love for all those who walk and don’t walk through our doors. We are proud of this history regardless of the many times it has caused tension with the larger community. We are committed to love all and we believe there can be no love without justice.
The River, a ministry of Virginia-Highland Church seeks to address both the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness and the systemic causes of homelessness through a clothing closet, education, volunteer opportunities, and advocacy. Week after week, I am amazed by the work of our congregation and our partner organizations: men and women gather to make sleeping mats out of reused grocery bags, put together hygiene kits, make meals for women in a transitional home, write letters to city council members, visit lawmakers at the capitol during the legislative session to discuss the topic, volunteer in a myriad of non-profits, and seek to continuously learn from our brothers and sisters living in the streets of Atlanta. We offer educational and volunteer opportunities for all who seek to walk side by side with our friends experiencing homelessness and we are delighted to welcome Rev. Matt Laney, whose ministry has been characterized by an incessant work for justice, as our senior pastor.
In a city and a country that seem more and more polarized over political and economic views, Virginia-Highland Church members are trying to love all and serve all as we follow our mission to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” with God.
I invite you to get to know your neighbors. All your neighbors. Hear their stories, their struggles, and hopes. There is much life and wisdom and laughter to share. And if that is too much to ask, I invite you to take a moment and share a good thought, full of love and compassion, with anyone who crosses your path. That can make all the difference in the world for someone.
Submitted by Rev. Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava, Pastor for Justice and Witness, Virginia-Highland Church