A California megachurch pastor is putting his faith to work by getting to know the often-forgotten members of his city.
The Rev. Rick Cole, of Capital Christian Center, is spending two weeks sleeping on the streets of Sacramento and has raised more than $100,000 for a winter shelter program.
Armed with a backpack, a change of clothes, his driver’s license, and $60 in cash, Cole has slept in alleyways and shelters, eating meals and chatting with the homeless to get a better understanding of what they need.
“It’s really quite difficult for someone to pick themselves up,” Cole told the Huffington Post on day 10 of his journey. “People need community, people need each other. The most spiritual thing we can do is reach out to a hurting person.”
He’s the first to admit that his experience hasn’t been completely authentic -- he has friends sleep near him at night to make sure he’s safe and Cole knows he has a comfortable home waiting for him when his adventure is done.
Still, as someone who has spent years rallying Sacramento’s faith community around the issue of homelessness, Cole says seeing the world from a homeless individual’s perspective has been invaluable.
He now knows what it’s like to have someone walk by you and pretend you don’t exist. As senior pastor of his 4,000-member megachurch, Cole is used to commanding attention. But as the days passed, the pastor’s beard grew scruffy and he began to look and smell as if he lived on the street, Sacbee reports.
Then, people started avoiding eye contact and walking quickly by.
Cole only got a glimpse of what that feels like in his few days on the street, but says he can understand now the kind of damage this treatment can have on people’s self-esteem.
“It starts getting to your head and makes you feel less valuable,” Cole said. “That’s a lot of wear and tear on a person and people get to the degree of being paralyzed and unable to help themselves.”
At least 501 men, women, and children have died homeless in Sacramento over the past 11 years, according to SacBee. About 38% of these individuals died outdoors.
Cole heads the board of directors for Sacramento Steps Forward, a non-profit group that coordinates homeless outreach in the city. Winter Sanctuary, a shelter program run by the group, invites the faith community in Sacramento to open its doors to the homeless during the cold winter months. Around 100 single men and women are offered buses to area churches and temples, where they are fed a warm meal, offered counseling, and given a secure place to sleep.
It costs about $300,000 for the non-profit to fund this outreach effort during the winter.
Cole was planning to return home after raising his personal goal of $100,000. Although he met his mark within one short week, the pastor plans to stay on the street for the full two weeks.
He said he’s learning too much about the community and about himself to call it quits just yet.
For example, as he tries to navigate the resources available to the homeless, he’s realizing that social service agencies need to put more of an emphasis on coordination. He’s also going to focus his ministry on reaching out to the homeless where they are.
“I think I’m going to come to them more, rather than asking them to come to me,” Cole said.
And then, there are the changes he said are happening to his soul.
“I’m having conversation after conversation that just moves my heart.” Cole said. “It makes me wonder, will I have the same care for these people when I’m driving by them in my car as I do right now when I’m walking with them every day? I hope this will burrow so deep inside of me that I will be a different person at the end.”