A Methodist pastor who has chosen to live among the homeless was a special guest speaker at two Durant venues on Tuesday.
Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith spoke to Rotary Club of Durant and the Wesley Center at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Smith describes her three-year experience of living among the homeless as a “ministry with the poor.”
“God has allowed me the privilege to be with those on the street. In the good and the bad, God is with me,” she said. “I’m trying to go through the process with the homeless to see the impact of the criminalization of the poor.”
Smith relates her own experience of being refused a bed at a San Antonio shelter because she carried a metal chalice which shelter operators considered a potential weapon. This forced her to sleep on a bench outside, which is against the law in San Antonio.
She received a ticket which led to jail time and brought a whole new perspective to her experience. Homeless people are often ferried in and out of jails, she said, in a process which criminalizes poverty and creates difficulties for individuals trying to get off the streets.
In one incident, Smith awoke to find a man with a knife hovering over her in an alley. She reached out her hand and introduced herself, which diffused the situation.
“It’s about contact and communication,” she said. “Giving somebody mutual respect and dignity changes persona.”
Smith challenges communities like Durant to enhance their own “ministry with the poor.” In keeping with her solidarity with the homeless, she slept on the street in Sherman the night before her arrival, found a ride to Durant, and stayed outdoors overnight near the Greyhound loading point on Tuesday.
Rotarians reminded the community that they are participating in their fifth annual food drive, as are many groups throughout Durant.