Monday, February 14, 2011

A View From a New Reality - A Review of Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski

How many times have you walked down a street that you saw a homeless person and walked by quickly, trying hard not to make eye contact? Or pretended to look at your phone so you don't have to stop and talk to them? Maybe you crossed the street so you didn't have to walk across their path? Now imagine that the tables are turned and you are now that homeless person you tried so hard to avoid. What would it feel like to be constantly looked down upon and thought of as less than human because of the way you look, the way you smell, or the fact that you are living on the streets? What would the world look like living on the streets? Author Mike Yankoski explores this topic in his book, Under the Overpass.

In 2003, Mike and his traveling companion, Sam, set out on a journey across the country - a 5-month experiment into what life living as a homeless person would be like. The idea of living on the streets had come to Mike while hearing a sermon about being the Christians we say we are. After much prayer and counsel, Mike and Sam walked away from their lives as typical college students and began living on the streets. They chose to experience homelessness in six cities across the United States - Denver, Washington D.C., Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego. Each city brought its own challenges and introduced them to a new cast of characters - the drug addict who was an amazingly talented musician, the woman who decided living on the streets was better than life in an abusive home, and the homeless man who tried to share the love of Christ by feeding others in need out of the back of his truck using funds from his government check. These are just a few of the people that they encountered along the way.

Even though they were visitors in the world of the homeless, life was hard for Mike and Sam. By living outside, they were constantly at the mercy of the elements whether it was cold, extremely hot, or raining. Each  day was a daily struggle of searching for food either by traveling across town to a rescue mission or church, or by panhandling on the streets playing worship songs on their guitars. Another challenge they faced on a daily basis was finding a "safe or comfortable" place to sleep. Of course, these are relative terms on the streets. Bathing and cleaning their clothing was generally a luxury that often alluded them for weeks at a time. While life was difficult, both Mike and Sam experienced spiritual growth and enlightenment through a deeper reliance on the Lord to meet their needs. 

While I found the book intriguing, I went into reading Under the Overpass a bit skeptical of the premise of the book. After all, why would two college students choose to be homeless and what good would becoming homeless do to help those most in need? Even Yankoski writes in the expanded edition of the book that their experiment was not necessarily the best way to serve the homeless community. That being said, the book gives great insight into the challenges faced everyday by people on the streets. From hunger to addiction and mental disabilities, the people on the streets have many obstacles in their path. Under the Overpass is also a great commentary on the modern church. Churches say their doors are open to sinners and those in need. Sadly, though, many churches just want the people who walk through their doors to come in nice neat packages and need as little from them as possible. 

Someone once tole me that ministry is messy. I think people are just people and sometimes they are hurting, or dirty, or they may smell. Under all of the grime is a person who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and who needs the love of Christ as much as anyone else. Overall, I would most definitely recommend Under the Overpass as a great read. It will give you a view from a new reality.

Please note: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

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