What happens when a couple of 20-something Christians decide to spend 5 months in six cities living as homeless people? Mike Yankoski and Sam Purvis decided to find out.
Mike tells part of their story in his book Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America (Multnomah Books: Colorado Springs, 2010). The book was originally published in 2005, and has be re-released in 2010 in an “updated and expanded edition” which includes a forwards by Francis Chan, a new epilogue, and a Q&A section.
The journey towards five months of homelessness begins with a realization:
The idea had dropped into my brain on Sunday morning while I sat in church. The pastor was delivering a powerful sermon about living the Christian life. The gist of it was, “Be the Christian you say you are.”
Suddenly I was shocked to realize that I had just driven twenty minutes past the world that needed me to be the Christian I say I am, in order to hear a sermon entitled, “Be the Christian you say you are.” (p. 4)
That triggered a desire in Mike to serve those who he normally ignored, that is, the homeless.
The book is divided into eight sections: An introduction; a section for each city in which Mike and Sam lived as homeless (Denver, Washington D.C., Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego); a Conclusion; an epilogue; and a Q&A. It is easy to read and hard to put down. Mike does not try to give every detail of their 5 month journey. Instead, in each city, he focuses on how certain people or events affects their lives on the street.
For example, at one point early in the story, Mike writes:
If we are the body of Christ – and Christ came not for the healthy but the sick – we need to be fully present in the places where people are most broken. And it has to be more than just a financial response. (p. 36-37)
Mike freely admits that he and Sam were not truly homeless. They always had an emergency contact in each city. However, they never used the emergency contact, and they ate, slept, panhandled, etc. with the homeless of each city.
One of the most poignant encounters (to me) happened in a deli. Mike and Sam were enjoying the air conditioning in the deli when a group of people walked in. They sat opposite the two “homeless” men and started talking about their love for the Bible. Mike decided to talk with them as they exited the deli, but the entire group looked away when they walked by them.
The conclusion, epilogue, and Q&A chapters are much more than simply add-ons. They are important to understanding how this journey affected Mike and Sam. Also, they offer great advice for those who may be interested in helping the homeless – hopefully, that will be many more people after reading this book.
I would recommend this book to everyone – old and young alike. At times you will be angry; at times you will praise God for his goodness. But, if you are like me, you will constantly be challenged to consider who you may be ignoring every day.
(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program.)
(Please consider rating my review below or at the WaterBrook Multnomah site here.)