A 5-month experiment to challenge one’s faith by living on the street is the main idea of the book “Under the Overpass” by Yankoski (2015). The author intends to put himself and his companion to the test by traveling to six cities of the US in the conditions of uncertainty and social rejection. This captivating and real-life story shows that radical experience presents many insights on the world of homeless people, which is considered in connection to Christianity.
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This chapter sets the background of the book, showing that Mike, a student of the Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and his friend, Sam, decided to understand the life of poor America. As the representatives of the middle class, they took only backpacks and prepared traveling papers within one month. The main purpose of this journey was to challenge their faith in the conditions that force people to step over their moral principles, including hunger, homelessness, depression, and so on.
The first stop is Denver, where Sam and Mike helped people at the Denver Rescue mission to start their lives on the street. While living on the bottom of society, Mile learned about the struggles of addicts and their efforts to recover. Being outside his comfort zone allowed the main character to understand how much grace and prayer it takes to survive for addicts. When the time of living at the rescue center came to its end, Mike was ready to live on the streets. Namely, he mastered some ways to make it easier, such as joking, phrasing questions, and showing respect.
In this chapter, the readers learn about the first stretch of living homeless on the example of Mike and Sam. They went to Washington, DC and used panhandling to obtain some money for living. The characters ate leftover food, slept on the ground, and played the guitar. There were some life-changing moments, when they faced both mercy and rejection from others. For example, a stranger female, Tiffany, bought them food, but they also observed frauds among homeless people. When they sang a song to Pamela, it was the expression of love and empathy to people around regardless of who they are.
During the third stop in Portland, Sam and Mike felt that they got used to living on the street since it seemed that the life became easier; however, finding bathrooms and food was especially challenging. In this city, the majority of people they met were in their 20s, with whom they lead many conversations. They also met a Christian man, a Sugar Man, who turned out to be a drug dealer. The only argument occurred in Portland between Sam and Mike, but it was resolved.
San Francisco was a half-way mark in their journey, and it provided great insights into their understanding of how challenges affect faith. The weather was cold and foggy, which made it more difficult to survive physically (Yankoski, 2015). In terms of mental, spiritual, and emotional issues, the males faced interracial hatred, panhandling problems, and were kicked out of parks. One of the churches that visited provided no help, while another one was more welcoming. The expressions of mental illness were observed by them near St. Mary’s Hospital.
On the contrary to San Francisco, the weather in Phoenix was hot, and Mike and Sam had their first job at the carnival. Their experience with churches increased during this stop: one time, they slept near the church building and were kicked out, another time they received no handouts. They also met Nikki and Karl, being the witnesses of the great power of forgiveness and prayer.
San Diego was the last stop, namely, Sam and Mike spent the most of their time in the Ocean Beach district, making many friends there. For example, they spoke with Andrew, a musician who became homeless because of drugs, and Bob, whose toes needed to be amputated. Rings shared his food with others, and Doug was a Christian who agonized over the reasons of why God cannot help him to stop his alcoholism.
At first glance, Mike and Sam were happy to end their journey and return home, but they noticed a strange desire to buy items only just because they could do it. This material blessing was regarded as the issue that can make people selfish. The main characters wanted that to continue being compassionate about others, which shows that genuine faith should always result in action.
The epilogue clarifies the consequences of the described journey after five years. Mike and his wife are the speakers on the World’s Great Needs Program, providing a Christ-centered reply to social challenges. In this part of the book, the author emphasizes that this journey was an important step towards God and serving people, as well as understanding the way Christians should live and interact with others.
“Under the Overpass” narrated the story of two friends, Mike and Sam, who decided to challenge their faith by traveling across the US and living as homeless. From Denver to San Diego, they used panhandling to have money for food and slept in churches and on the streets. These young men met a lot of people, each of which offered a valuable lesson. This journey allowed them to gain the most important insight that true faith results in actions.
Author’s Views, Social Work Values, and the Bible
Today’s social values are closely linked to the biblical principles of living a life in a way that makes a person clean before God, avoiding anything that can detract from Him. In this book, Mike and Sam try to practice these principles during their journey. Service is the most important social work value: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Ephesians 6:7-9, NIV). These young men make a lot of acquaintances and friends, who have various reasons for being homeless and different attitudes to God. While speaking with people, they always try to be responsive and respectful, showing patience, understanding, and involvement.
Dignity and the worth of a person are the two other values that should be applied by social workers. It is expected that they are aware of ethnic and cultural differences of people, which is to be taken into account while increasing a client’s opportunities to change. The book promotes these values on the example of Mike and Sam, who treat people in a caring manner, feeling responsible for not only themselves but also broader society. For example, they attempt to help in solving problems of others and protect them from violence, which is consistent with the following excerpt: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17, NIV). The author’s ideas align with those of the Bible and social work as they target a common goal of helping people to feel their worth and dignity.
Other biblical social values include social justice, the significance of human relationships, competence, and integrity. Being true to own beliefs and also accepting those of others is the core of integrity. The resolution of ethical dilemmas requires competence and social justice to approach them properly, which was also practiced by Sam and Mike. The importance of relationship was presented, when they listened to people and treated them with love in terms of the second commandment. The image of Mike can be identified as a person who loves his friends but also enemies, while he expects nothing in return since he knows that God would reward him.
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Reflection on the Book’s Impact
“Under the Overpass” provides some valuable insights on how to help homeless people, so that they would not buy drugs or alcohol. One of the suggestions is giving them food or gift cards to groceries; it is also possible to donate clothes and shoes. Another option is to talk to them, listen to their stories, and provide sincere response. After reading the book, I better understood the ways I can help and I plan to do it. The book clearly states that some people become homeless due to substance abuse, while others due to the necessity or choice. However, regardless of their differences, all of them deserve to feel human and receive care.
Yankoski, M. (2015). Under the overpass. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.