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Friday, December 13, 2013

Walking In Their Shoes: A Bridgeton Pastor Lives For Two Days Among The Homeless

By Mickey Brandt 
Few of us would be homeless by choice. Rob Weinstein, a Bridgeton pastor, is an exception.
His plight, and his challenge, was a recent 48-hour journey living on the street, intended to open his heart to the problems his community faces, then spur his congregation to greater levels of faith and action. He literally went straight from the parking lot of the church, where he slept on a concrete slab, to the pulpit, where he preached the lessons of the ordeal. His inner city, non-denominational, evangelical church has about a hundred members.
Rob told me the experience was isolating, frightening, and discouraging. He said he went two days without food, water, shelter, or a bathroom. No one, neither stranger nor casual acquaintance, acknowledged him or offered any help. Even several church members passed  by without recognizing him. In posing as a homeless person, he became as invisible as any real one.
“You're part of the world, but not part of the world,” he said. “You become disassociated from society and it's no wonder.”
As his hunger and thirst increased, his physical and mental condition deteriorated. He walked to his mother's home during the last hours of his self-imposed exile.
During our interview, Rob sprinkled his answers to my probing questions with apt metaphors and poignant biblical references. He didn't simply quote Scripture; he formed relentless intellectual arguments. Throughout, he made it clear that his life was guided – being called to temporary homelessness was only the most recent example.
“God has given me a voice and I have to use it on the issues He's concerned about,” he said.
He was often provocative and facetious about the inadequacies of Christian action on helping the homeless and others in need.
“I like to think people who passed me on the street said a prayer for me, but what I really could have used was a hamburger,” he noted.
He said the monotony of pointless wandering through Bridgeton gave him a lot of time to think and he spent some of it on the “ignorance, apathy, and complacency” of churches in general. He so desperately wants to change it that he's edgy to the point of anger.
“As long as we're content with just doing a little good, we don't do the great things that God wants us to do” he said in his insistent and disarming manner. “If it's dark, why blame it on the darkness? We're supposed to be the light, so why aren't we shining?”
I enjoyed provoking Rob, too, although he returned my serves with Rafael Nadal quickness and force. His answers were not doctrinaire, they were directed. So, doesn't being a good Christian mean going “all in” for others at the expense of one's self? He quoted Mother Theresa: “If you can't feed a hundred people, just feed one.” How did he know God called him to that weekend of trial? “I can tell because it's something I would have never done of my own accord; I keep doing things I'd never want to do.” How can he be sure he's following God's plan? “If I err, I do it in the direction of service, not in the direction of pew-sitting.”
Wasn't it a phony stunt because he knew he'd have a bed by Sunday night? “In no way is what I did comparable, it was a glimpse. No one can imagine what they go through and for people to judge them is ludicrous.” Should tax money go to curing these ills? “I worked in government; it isn't effective that way. If God had wanted government to solve the problems, Jesus would have come as a Roman magistrate, not a carpenter.”
The preacher presented a bright sincerity in a field crowded with charismatic fakers. He is building the brand, but the brand seems more like Jesus, less like Rob.
What was most important about the homeless weekend? Simple. As Rob sees things, it's the lesson of lessons for all of us, sometimes called the golden rule.
“A few days before I went out, I told a homeless man who sleeps behind our church what I was going to do. He offered me his sleeping bag.”

The Rev. Dr. Robin Weinstein, 32, is the founding pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church. He is an assistant professor and chair of his department at Wilmington University. He has served as deputy county administrator for Salem County and as a legislative aide for the New Jersey Assembly. He holds a bachelor's degree in justice, law, and society;  a seminary master's degree in theological studies; and a doctorate in educational leadership. He serves and has served on boards of about two dozen civic and religious organizations. He grew up in Bridgeton and was student body president at Bridgeton High School.

Follow Mickey Brandt on Twitter @mickey_brandt
December 11, 2013
Volume 6, Issue 11

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