Lorenza Smith speaks at OCU.
By Molly Kate Been
During the first week of October, a homeless pastor blessed the Oklahoma City University community.
After years of petitioning her bishop in the Rio Grande Conference, United Methodist clergywoman Lorenza Andrade Smith began a three-year appointment to homeless ministries on July 1, 2011. She gave away all her belongings and forfeited her pension, insurance, and benefits. She lives on the streets, or "under the stars," in solidarity with the poor.
While in Oklahoma City, she joined students sleeping on the OCU campus lawn to support DAX, the Christian service fraternity, in its annual Homeless Awareness Week. She preached in three worship services, gave two lectures, and ministered to people on the streets.
She would not accept an honorarium for her visit; "I work for food," she said. In her honor, the Owen Wimberly Center at OCU will make a donation to a ministry that serves the poor.
I was one of the students in a Christian Education class that she taught. As I listened to Rev. Smith speak of her experiences with the most marginalized of people, I suddenly saw myself in a different light. I was wearing approximately $250 worth of clothes. Moreover, my clothes were clean; my hair, washed; my teeth, brushed.
As I snacked on a bag of Cheetos with my neighbor, I wondered, "What must she think of me?" I sat convicted and raised my hand to ask if she was angry with us—privileged students who claim to be "poor college kids."
She answered, sighing, "I just don’t have the energy to be angry." Instead, her energy is spent working as a positive force for compassion, justice, and love in the world.
Rev. Smith gave new perspective on the homeless. She described chronic exhaustion as one of her greatest struggles. "I would take sleep over food any day," she said.
She spoke extensively about the criminalization of the poor. Public urination and sleeping outside are illegal, yet public restrooms or shelter are not available to all. Rev. Smith has been arrested four times for acts of civil disobedience on behalf of the marginalized since she has been on the streets.
Her story has brought me back to a core message of the Gospel: God is on the side of the poor and is calling me to do the same.
(OCU senior Molly Kate Been is a Bishop’s Scholar, majoring in religion.)