Saturday, December 11, 2010
Book Review: Under the Overpass
As I type this review, my kids are watching Diego on a flatscreen TV, I have a cup of coffee by my side, I am sitting in my recliner in my climate-controlled house, and my belly is quite full. The reality is that every day, thousands of people in every major city would give anything for these luxuries. Right now, they are outside, trying to find shelter from the cold rain that is pelting my windows. This is the plight of the homeless and the genesis for the writing of Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski.
Mike was a student at a Christian college when a sermon at church challenged him to examine whether or not he was the Christian he said he was. As he mulled over what that meant for him, he wondered how he would react if he put his comfortable life aside to live "alongside of those who live with nothing every day." That spurred an idea in his spirit to become voluntarily homeless to experience what they experience every day, and hopefully increase his heart for the homeless. After discussing his plan with trusted people and loved ones, and after finding a traveling companion, he set off on his five-month journey.
The book follows his - for lack of a better word - adventure through six major American cities: Denver, Washington DC, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego. In each of the cities, the reader is exposed to the real life struggles that every homeless individual experiences: Where will I eat? Where will I sleep? Am I safe here? How can I get warm? How can I get cooled off? Where will I go to the bathroom? and so on. I have been on numerous mission trips and have worked with lots of homeless individuals, but this book painted their struggles in a completely new light. I have a new appreciation for the hardships with which they daily have to deal. But perhaps the biggest struggle that stood out to me in this book was the relational one. You read first-hand how the homeless are prejudiced against, talked down to, yelled at, and treated like dirt, and this sometimes by 'Christian' people. In a Q&A with the author at the end of the book, Mike writes, "By far the hardest aspect was the lack of strong relationships." Comments like these will help me be more conscious of how I treat the homeless when I encounter them. They are, after all, people created in God's image, just like any other.
I really enjoyed this book, if you can enjoy reading about someone's struggles on the street. It opened my eyes even further to the struggles of the homeless, and I had a hard time putting it down each night. But perhaps the best review I can give it is that I am different as a result of its reading.
This book was originally written five years ago, and this is an updated an expanded edition, including an epilogue to the updated edition and a Q&A with the author. It was cool to read how the experience had changed the course to the author's life, as he is now living in community with others who are homeless and doing life with them. The publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah, now offers an Under the Overpass action plan for Christmas, which you can access here. If you would like to read the first chapter (which I would highly recommend!), you can do so here. Once you do so, chances are good that you will end up buying the book, so be prepared...