After several weeks of living on the streets in Sacramento, CA, pastor Rick Cole of Capital Christian Center rode light rail back to his Rosemont megachurch to share his experience with his congregation.
Cole, who experienced life on the streets in an effort to raise money for the homeless, raised more than $144,000 toward the $300,000 needed to fund Winter Sanctuary, a program that buses homeless men and women to churches on cold nights and provides them with meals.
In an emotional sermon this past Sunday, Cole told his congregation that his experience had also changed his attitude toward homeless people and transformed his worldview.
Even though he met his first goal of $100,000 on Monday, Cole chose to live homelessly for the next week.
"I couldn't leave," he explained, adding that he felt he had more to learn. Truly homeless people, he said, "can't see any end in sight. I could do just a few more days."
The pastor said that prior to his experience, he had never truly noticed the homeless.
"I've walked through that park with a latte in my hand, (heading to meetings at) City Hall," he said. "I can't remember a soul. They were not on my radar. For 14 days, I saw them. I sat with them."
"I've begun to see the value in every person," he said later in his sermon. "Every soul matters, even the crazy ones."
While on the streets, Cole, who was joined on different nights by supporters, including Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix, ate free meals from local charities and slept on park benches.
"I never stayed by myself," the pastor said, "But at night it feels dark and it feels lonely ... and crazy things go on."
In concluding his sermon, Cole encouraged his congregation to "get off our high, stinky religious horse" and instead minister to those living on the streets.
"God in his spirit is out there in the streets," he said.
"I feel like a different person on the end of this journey. I hope I can open the eyes of others. I feel more compassionate in my heart for people I've ignored. I don't want to lose the value of this experience."