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Students experience poverty first-hand

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A humbling experience. That’s how several college students described their night of being “homeless” in Kansas City, Mo., during Blume, a missions event sponsored by national Woman’s Missionary Union July 10-13 for teenage girls and collegiate young women.

Of the 100 collegiate girls who attended Blume, 25 walked more than a mile to the Kansas City Rescue Mission, a men’s shelter and soup kitchen in the heart of downtown. They stood in line with other shelter guests to get their food, then later spent the night on the floor of a warehouse across the street. This eye-opening evening was part of a poverty simulation experience led by Jimmy and Janet Dorrell.

“I went into this experience thinking I would learn more about how [the homeless] live,” said Meredith Murphy, a member of Forest Home Baptist Church in Kilgore, Texas. “I benefited way more than I ever thought I would. They [the homeless] are so nice, so grateful. I felt very selfish. I take so much for granted. I have so many blessings and don’t take time to thank God for them all.”

Rachel Gerke, a member of Reynoldsburg Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio, agreed.

“It was nice to put faces to this issue,” she said. “We talk about the marginalized, but it was cool to actually sit and talk with them. It was humbling. It’s easy to think we have it all together, and we may have a good heart or we may think we have it better than them. But I don’t have anything on my own. It’s all of God.”

Since the mission housed only men, the young women slept in a warehouse across the street from the shelter.

The Dorrells, founders of the interdenominational Church Under the Bridge, regularly host poverty simulation experiences in their hometown of Waco, Texas. Nearly 600 students travel to Waco each year to be “homeless” from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. Jimmy Dorrell described this overnight experience in Kansas City as “short, but intensive.”

In addition to eating with the mission guests and sleeping on the floor, the girls participated in a variety of exercises designed to teach them more about poverty, such as writing a poem from the perspective of a Third World mother whose newborn baby died due to lack of money for food. They also created a budget based on a minimum wage income. “We had to dig through dumpsters and endure the looks and stares from others,” Murphy said.

“We were patted down and had to do a breathalyzer test as we entered, kind of as if we were criminals,” said Meredith Gaston, member of Acton Baptist Church in Acton, Texas. “We slept on the floor, but had the comforting thought of knowing that we got to go back home to beds. I was so touched by their stories that I went back [the next day] to hear more.”

Gaston admitted that in the past when she saw someone on the street asking for money, she would give them a couple dollars.

“Sometimes I wondered if they would spend it on booze or whatever, but I never thought beyond that, like where they were going to sleep or what they would eat,” she said. “Giving is what God tells us to do.

“I met Gregory, a 65-year-old man and asked him, ‘What gives you hope?’ He said his faith. Every day that he lives he’s grateful because it’s a day he’s never lived before and will not live again…. We have God’s power, and we have the responsibility to use that power and meet the needs of others.”

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  • Jennifer Harris and Julie Walters