“People have to know you really do care about them,” said Keinath, who has ministered in 21 nations. “That’s part of what I think this is about. My identification with them has brought down the walls.”
Fires, Needles, Coughs:
Keinath left comforts behind on Jan. 15, when he boarded a van with homeless men leaving a morning service at Calvary Temple. He spent his days walking downtown streets before heading to Cianci Park to pray. At night, when temperatures dropped into the teens, he slept in the encampment where men built fires to ward off frostbite, where hypodermic needles littered the ground, and where coughing was a nighttime chorus.
When he returned Sunday, he had on his street-soiled jeans and bulky layers of sweater and coat that he had worn all week. He sat in the pews bearded and unshowered with the homeless men he had befriended — a far cry from the Sunday preacher who appears in pressed suit and tie, reading glasses and neatly trimmed blond hair.
“We really became like brothers,” said Keinath, who wrote mini-biographies for 48 people he met during his week on the streets, so he could remember each one and their stories.
During the service, Pastor Joshua Escobar extended a special recognition to the men, and the church responded with a standing ovation. Reflecting on his experience, Keinath said he was amazed by the humility of those he met and their willingness to accept God.
“I did not have one person on the streets, homeless or addicts, who overtly rejected the hope we were trying to bring,” he said.
Keinath hopes the church will be reinvigorated in its mission to help by his firsthand report on the damage wrought by homelessness and the stories of those he met.
“I believe all of this is just the groundwork and the beginning for a long-term solution,” he said. Keinath spoke with compassion and understanding for the people he has met, but said that many struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. His goal, ultimately, is to buy or build a structure and start a “hope center” that serves to shelter the homeless while helping them recover from problems including substance abuse.
The pastor said he recently learned that his church was founded in Paterson’s 4th Ward, where he now ministers. To him and his church, he said, that was a sign.
“I feel,” he said, “like this is God saying: ‘Get back to your roots. Get back to where people are hurting.’ ”