The purpose of Urban Hearts Missions will be defined as follows; to cultivate healthy friendships with the poor, to serve as an authentic witness of Christian charity, and to edify the local Catholic church.
WHY DO WE DO IT?
One constant theme of Christ's life in the gospels is His unrelenting and unabashed love of the poor. He lives with them, He eats with them, and He seeks them out with intent and love In fact, He dwells in their midst. When Jesus walked the earth, He chose to reveal Himself in a very particular way through the poor and the homeless, and the scriptures make quite clear that His followers are to seek Him out there. In St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus clearly explains to his disciples what the Christian apostolate to the poor should look like when he says:
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
As a Christian Mission based on Catholic teaching, we take these words very seriously. Christ makes clear in this passage that those who love Him are to do so through their generosity and care for the poor. We go out on the street to serve our homeless neighbors in an effort to follow this command so that we can learn to love the poor and lift them up as Jesus did.
HOW ARE WE DIFFERENT?
At Urban Hearts, we believe very strongly that there is no such thing as a macro solution to homelessness. Success in the arena of social reintegration for our friends on the street tends to happen on a micro scale. That is where our mission is different. In Anchorage, we are lucky that there are many organizations dedicated to serving the material needs of the poor through food, shelter, and medicine. These organizations are critical, and in fact, what we do would not be possible if the good work they have done hadn't come before. But where the aim of these wonderful charities is to provide the homeless with material support, our goal is to invest in the lives and struggles of individuals experiencing homelessness in order to build authentic loving friendships with them. Our hope is that through cultivating personal relationships with the poor, we can serve as a catalyst for cultural change in the way we as a society perceive and interact with the homeless.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
We take Christ as our model. He went out into the streets and the midst of poverty to seek out the poor, so we do too. Our mission takes place on the street because we want to encounter the homeless where they are and be prepared to accompany them in their struggles in whatever way we can. If they are hungry, we'll bring food. If they are cold, we'll bring them blankets and scarves. If they need work, we'll help them write a resume and apply for jobs. If they need help overcoming addiction, we'll get them information on twelve-step programs and accompany them to meetings. And if they just need a friend, we will sit and talk with them. Whatever we can do to help, we will. But the only way to determine how to effectively and meaningfully impact someone's life is to invest in a friendship with them. That is our mission; to ENCOUNTER and ACCOMPANY.
The first half of our mission statement is to encounter the homeless. This of course, includes our initial contact with them and the simple act of introducing ourselves, but it is so much more than that. When we talk about encountering our friends on the street, we mean encountering their suffering, encountering their joy, encountering their lives and coming face to face with their humanity. Only after we have proven ourselves trust-worthy through authentically encountering our neighbor can we gain the privilege of their friendship and begin the second half of our mission.
The second tenant of the apostolate is to accompany our friends in their struggles and commit to dedicated relationship with them through thick and thin. Those experiencing homelessness typically have long histories of their trust being broken or their friendship being abused and exploited, so it is important that we stick to a commitment of scheduled weekly street walks, rain or shine, so that we can build up a relationship of trust and respect with them. This allows us to truly take part in their lives and walk with them throughout whatever struggles or successes they encounter.
pillars of missionary formation
Like many lay apostolate movements, Urban Hearts implements a training program for its missionaries that encompasses four main areas of formation - the human, the intellectual, the spiritual, and the apostolic. Growth in these pillars of missionary life help to prepare our team members for meaningful encounters and relationships with our friends on the street!
Human formation is about becoming more fully alive and disciplined in those aspects of life that are common to all of humanity. This encompasses many things, but it is most fully summed up in the idea of community. Our missionaries engage in weekly community nights in which they learn to share, grow, and authentically enjoy their fellowship with one another. Formation in the area of human experience is necessary so that we can bring a wholistic sense of relational community to our friends on the street.
The Catholic Church has a rich history of intellectual and philosophical discourse, and we want to encourage that tradition of cultivating the mind in conjunction with the heart. In order to form their intellectual faculties toward charitable mission work, missionaries participate in weekly studies designed to expand their knowledge in various areas of study related to the apostolic mission. The curriculum includes classes in catechetics, as well as addiction recovery, poverty statistics, and social justice.
A firm footing in faith rooted in a loving relationship with the Father is required of every missionary on our team. In the course of our ministry, we encounter many disturbing and heartbreaking stories, and without a deep spiritual foundation, the struggles and hurt we encounter absolutely will overcome us. We cannot do this on our own steam. Missionaries commit to daily prayer, a regular sacramental life, and weekly formation in order to make sure that their spiritual life is healthy and centered on Christ.
This pillar is last not because it is the least important, but because it is informed by and grown through the other three areas of formation. Apostolic formation refers to the growth of our missionaries in their apostolate, especially in their service to the poor. Through their human, intellectual, and spiritual formation, Urban Hearts missionaries are well equipped to engage with the homeless community and serve their needs in a direct and personal way that offers the most effective route toward social reintegration.