A book review of Mike Yankoski’s “Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America.”
* Paperback: 224 pages
* Publisher: Multnomah Books (March 2005)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 1590524020
* Available on both the Sony Reader and Kindle.
I love this book. Read it from cover-to-cover in less than 72 hours. It is about two twenty-something Jesus followers (Mike Yankoski and Sam Purvis) who spend five months on the streets of six difference American cities as homeless men. They “went from upper-middle class plush to scum-of-the-earth repulsive overnight.”
As the publisher writes, it is a story about faith, identifying with the poor and discovering more “forgotten, ruined, beautiful people than we ever imagined existed.” But it is also an examination of how other Jesus followers reacted to them “from complete rejection and contempt to wonderful acts of love.” But this is NOT a book of condemnation, but of challenge, appraisal and encouragement.
Here are just two of the many stories.
When another guy walked upstairs, he, too, went to the far side of the room and plunked down his tray. On it I noticed a meatball sub and a worn brown leather New Testament. Soon all five, obviously strangers to each other, were busy eating their sandwiches.
“I [Mike] pretended to be reading a book, and Sam did the same, but the aroma of that meatball sub was killing us.
“After a couple of minutes, one of them asked the man with the Bible what translation it was.
“NIV,” he answered. “What version do you read?”
“NLT,” the guy answered.
“Really?” the girl from the other table chimed in. “I really like the NASB.”
“I guess it’s a matter of preference,” the guy in the middle said, taking another bite of his juicy meatball sub. The next ten minutes were filled with lively conversation between the five new friends. Across the room, Sam and I sat quietly, reading and reeking.
“Eventually the five ate their fill and crumpled up their wrappers. Getting ready to leave, the man with the Bible told both couples he would pray for them. Both couples thanked him honestly and said the same thing in reply. As they walked past us, Sam and I looked up trying to catch their eyes and nod a hello. But they carefully looked away. Each emptied their tray of garbage into the trash can next to Sam and turned to walk down the stairs.
“I remembered many times I had walked past a homeless man or woman sitting on the cold sidewalk, awkwardly averting my eyes and whistling to cover my discomfort. I wondered if those men and women had been as frustrated with me as I now was with the people who were walking down the stairs.” (78-79)
Then there is the story about a man named Rings. A kindhearted old chain smoking Jesus follower who lived in the cab of his pickup truck. Rings said he’d been told by God to feed the homeless.
Over the next minutes, Rings told us about his personal feeding program and invited us to help him out the next day”.
The next morning Rings said, “Well, boys like I told you, you’re the answer to my prayers. I got a check yesterday, and my coolers are all empty in the back of my truck. When we finish our coffee, we’ll go to the store and buy enough food to cook up a feast. The [homeless] folks down at the park will be speechless!
“The last thought gave him so much obvious pleasure, he started to laugh, and that led to more coughing, and eventually to more cursing.
“I was impressed that a guy living in a truck cab would consistently give his entire (measly) government check to feed others in similar straits. Most homeless people we’d met blew their checks on booze and drugs within a couple of days.
“I gave him time to regain his composure. ‘Rings, who are you, really?’ I asked.
“I’m just a man,” Rings said with a wink. “Jesus saved me. Been a trucker, a carnie, a door-to-door salesman, a husband, a father. I’ve been in jail, been an addict, been a drunk. Now I follow Christ. All that I have is His. If He can save me, He can save anybody.
“We asked him to tell us more, but rings had other plans. ‘It’s been a crazy road, that’s for sure,’ he said. ‘But come on—the road up ahead is always better than the road behind. Let’s get started.’
“We walked out to his battered pickup, piled in, and drove off to a nearby supermarket. There we bought a hundred dollars worth of eggs, milk, orange juice, pancake mix, steak, tortillas, and butter. Then we headed for the beach”[where] Rings fed twenty or so that day out of the back of his truck. And what a sight that was, too. Hungry, forgotten people stood around in a circle in the foggy morning air watching an old man hunched over his propane stove cooking and smoking, cooking and smoking. I don’t think an eye ever left the chef’s hands as he worked”.”
“When the tailgate feast was ready, and the first man stepped up to take his plate, rings had a speech ready.
“Do you know why I do this?” he asked his attentive audience. “I do this because Christ pulled me out of the mess I was in. then He told me to do this. You want to be free? This is freedom! Enjoy!
“And breakfast was served.” (201-204)
Great read for any Jesus follower and particularly those working with our friends on the streets. And yes, it will challenge you to see these people differently.
Under the Overpass website.