Roger Marsh: Hello, and welcome to Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh. And whether you've been listening to Family Talk for years, or you found us for the first time, we're so glad that you're here. Today, we present to you the second half of Dr. Dobson's conversation with Mike Yankoski. In the early 2000s, while he was still a college student, Mike felt God calling him to minister to homeless people in the US. In order to better understand the needs, trials, and lifestyles of the homeless, Mike decided to live on the streets himself for five months, and did so with these overlooked individuals, as a fascinating and radical social experiment. Mike Yankoski recounted his experience in his 2005 book titled, Under the Overpass. Today, in part two of this classic conversation, Mike will share some more stories on life on the streets, what he learned, the perspective he now has, and the plight of the homeless in our nation, and the realization that a lot of us are not as Christlike as we should be, to those most in need. Here now is Dr. Dobson, to introduce today's edition of Family Talk.
Dr. James Dobson: We began our conversation last time talking about Mike's first night on the streets, which was actually in Washington, DC, near Union train station, which I know very well. I love that old structure. Mike, you were very hungry by that point, that's one of the largest food courts in the country, down in the basement of that building, and yet you didn't have any money to buy anything. I asked you about panhandling, asking people for money, and you said it was demeaning, and that you really didn't do it very well. You weren't given much money, and you guys were hungry. Before we go on to your visit to the next city, what happened there in Washington, especially with regard to the need for money? Because that would've been very, very hard for me.
Mike Yankoski: It was extremely difficult. It was very interesting. One night we were down on the boardwalk, near the Potomac River in Georgetown. We had thought that Georgetown would be a much better city to panhandle in, more people during the nightlife and whatnot. This is a Friday afternoon. We walk from Downtown, DC out to Georgetown, and set up our guitars in order to panhandle, as the evening crowds come out. We set up shop in front of this five-star restaurant, bars and just, it's going to be a pretty incredible scene in the evening we're hoping. So that we can get enough money to eat that evening. We don't have enough to eat, so what we make panhandling that night, is what we're going to eat with. As the sun goes down, and the people begin to come out, there's about a thousand people walking around, just enjoying the scenery, enjoying their evening, going out to dinner with their families. After panhandling for three hours, we've made about 18 cents, and that's it?
Dr. James Dobson: Now when you're hungry.
Mike Yankoski: And when you're hungry.
Dr. James Dobson: That's really being tough.
Mike Yankoski: Exactly. It was getting so frustrating. We were just about to close up our guitar cases, and just walk off, find some place to sleep off the hunger. When all of a sudden this group of kids comes walking along the boardwalk. Again, this is a Friday night. Downtown Georgetown. They come walking along, and see us playing our guitars, and the leader of the group runs over, and they surround us. It's a Boys and Girls Club of America trying to raise money for their baseball uniform. They've come to do the same thing we have, essentially.
Dr. James Dobson: You didn't need competition.
Mike Yankoski: Exactly. We have nothing to gain on them. Their leader looks down at us and says, "Well hey, we are from a Boys and Girls Club of America. Can you help us out with a donation?" I look from him to the guitar case, and then back up and said, "Sure, we have 18 cents. If you'd like that, it's yours." From the back of the group, and again, this is a group of kids. We're sitting on the ground. This group of kids are standing in front of us, and they're silhouetted against this whole night scene, with a thousand people in the restaurant, and in the bars, walking around. The smells of the food coming down to us as we're at the Potomac River, and there's no way we could afford dinner at this place. The silhouette against this, and the littlest kid, the smallest one from the very back, elbows his friends out of the way, and comes up and stands right in front of us.
He looks down at me, stares me in the eyes, and looks at the guitar case, and looks back and says, "You don't have any money at all. Do you?" I said, "Well, we have the 18 cents." He said, "Don't worry about it. I got you covered it." He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a dollar and 25 cents, and puts it down in the guitar case, and just walks away.
Dr. James Dobson: You're kidding.
Mike Yankoski: The principle that God uses the simple things, to shame the wise. In that moment, it crystallized. It was just so obvious that God was using this little child, to talk about, and to show to Sam and I, what mercy and generosity is all about, because he saw the need that we had, and didn't pretend like it wasn't there, and then engaged us, and blessed us hugely.
Dr. James Dobson: Mike, knowing the demographics of this nation, there were probably a lot of Christian people that walked past you that day.
Mike Yankoski: Yeah, I believe that there were. That was one of the more frustrating sides of this whole journey. We went out, in part to see how the American church is engaging the homeless community. Jesus makes such obvious statements about how to care for the least of these, and how important it is for his followers to do that. We wanted to see, "Okay, is that happening? Is that taking place?" We would go actually from place to place city, to city and visit different churches, and see if they would be willing to help us out. Oftentimes, we hadn't eaten for several days, and we needed some help, some serious help. I remember one night in Phoenix, we slept outside of a church, a large church, woke up the next morning, and there was a bunch of activity going on in this other area. People were setting up for a church breakfast and man, we haven't eaten for a while.
The possibility of a church breakfast sounds really good. We sat up, and just started talking between ourselves, Sam and I. Within about 10 minutes, this gentleman, and another one of his friends came walking across the sidewalk, straight towards us. We were leaning up against the sanctuary as they neared us. They said, "You guys, you have to get out of here. You can't be here." It was just, we weren't expecting that. He walked into the sanctuary about five minutes later, came back out, and saw that we were still there. Got pretty frustrated with us and said, "You guys, I told you to leave. You need to get out of here." We're sitting here saying, "What?"
Dr. James Dobson: You're standing there ragged.
Mike Yankoski: Yeah.
Dr. James Dobson: Dirty, obviously in need, and he ran you away.
Mike Yankoski: We slowly got up, packed up our stuff, and walked away. Then on the Sunday, we decided to come back to the same church. After that church's service had ended, the man who had kicked us off the property the day before, came running up to us after the service, and just threw his arms around us. Started weeping, and said, "Guys, I am so sorry. Would you please forgive me?"
Dr. James Dobson: Oh really?
Mike Yankoski: This is not what it's about to be a Christian. We were setting up for a church breakfast, and I kicked you guys off the property. You have to forgive me. I'm sorry.
Dr. James Dobson: Oh man. That is very meaningful.
Mike Yankoski: It was amazing. The experiences with the church were not all bad. You had some people who did represent the mind of Christ.
Oh, you're exactly right. I wish that I could say that this was an isolated incident for us, as we're traveling across the country. In so many different places, because of what we looked like, what we smelled like, and who we were in that moment, people of faith turned us away, and didn't reach out in love, as Jesus is asking us to. Is commanding his disciples to.
Dr. James Dobson: Mike, did anybody ever come and kneel down, and look you in the eye and say, "Hey, tell us who you guys are. Where'd you come from? Where you going? How long you been on the streets, and anything you need?" Just explore who you were, especially as a way of then saying, do you know that God loves you? Did that happen?
Mike Yankoski: It did rarely, but it did happen. When it did happen, it changed the entire city. San Francisco was one of the most difficult cities that we were in, because there are so many homeless men and women who were there. In the Tenderloin district, there's 5,000 people, and a five block radius who are homeless. We would panhandle in San Francisco, and make even less than we did in Washington, DC. We would move between cities, having bought bus tickets from the money we made panhandling. When we didn't make anything, we couldn't get onto the next city. In desperation, we had gone out from downtown San Francisco to Berkeley, in order to panhandle out there. Unfortunately, met with the same circumstances. Couldn't get help. We were in really desperate situation. There weren't as many services in Berkeley to take care of us.
Dr. James Dobson: Mike, before we went on the air, I told you, I was going to ask you this question. I was in downtown Colorado Springs. We could go, and I popped out of my car and I was in a hurry, and I was hustling down the sidewalk. There were two, what looked to be homeless men, I'm sure. They were pretty ragged. Boy. I mean, they were really looking bad, and it was clear that they were either drunk, or they were on drugs. Both of them talked with the slur, and they came up and interrupted my walk, and said, "Can you help us? Would you help us?" Frankly, it was not a lack of generosity. I wasn't sure what to do.
Mike Yankoski: Right.
Dr. James Dobson: I knew that the money I gave to them, was going to support whatever habit they were exhibiting to me. On the other hand, I feel guilty that I didn't, I could have helped. Believe me, it was not a matter of generosity. I'm an easy touch, but I walked on by, and I felt bad about it. What would you have recommended I do?
Mike Yankoski: I think you're exactly right in saying yes. A lot of the money that we do give just straight panhandling, will go immediately to drugs or alcohol. It's just what we saw. So often it's just a quick fix these guys are looking for. A better way to go about doing that perhaps, is to buy different gift certificates from local fast food restaurants, or coffee shops. Because, we know people have to eat. By trying to provide a way for them to meet that legitimate need, you can be generous at the same time, and make sure that it's...
Dr. James Dobson: You give them food?
Mike Yankoski: Yeah. (Affirmative).
Dr. James Dobson: Or other needs, but you don't give them money.
Mike Yankoski: Right. Exactly. I would not recommend giving handouts to any man, and woman who's on the streets. I wouldn't recommend that. Even then, how you engage them when you do pass them. What Jesus is doing in the scriptures, he's hanging out with people that nobody else wants to. The prostitute, and the beggars.
Dr. James Dobson: It's my understanding of the book, that there were three objectives that took you out there. Let's take them one at a time, and summarize what this journey was all about.
Mike Yankoski: You're exactly right. Three main purposes that we decided upon. First, we wanted to understand more of what homelessness is, and how actually these men and women who are on the streets across America survive. What is it? How can we better engage that? Second was...
Dr. James Dobson: Well, let me ask you, is it far more miserable than you thought it would be?
Mike Yankoski: It is. It is, because it's so long and the days. I think so many of us fill our days with different tasks that we can get them done. 24 hours with nothing to do, is so long. This is what these men and women are enduring on a daily basis. The heat, the weather, the elements.
Dr. James Dobson: Yeah. You also didn't always get along with your partner in this exercise, Sam Purvis. In fact, the two of you had a pretty serious conflict with each other, didn't you?
Mike Yankoski: We did, at a couple different points, because the situation that we were in is so hard, and it was as simple sometimes as us coming to a street crossing, and saying, "Okay, we need to go this way." And me saying, "Oh, we need to go this way, and being completely at odds," but little things started to set us off. Then I believe so strongly, that who we think Jesus Christ is, informs how we interact with people so much. If Sam and I were at odds a little bit, maybe we should challenge this person on their alcoholism, or maybe we should show more grace in that. That actually came to have a lot of tension between us sometimes when we were out there.
Dr. James Dobson: But you stayed together.
Mike Yankoski: We did. I think it's so important. Sam and I realized that no matter how at odds we may become with one another, or what we think about the other person, we desperately needed each other in those situations, in order to stay safe.
Dr. James Dobson: All right. Give us the bottom line from that first objective.
Mike Yankoski: Every single man and woman on the streets is a human being, made in the image of God, and in desperate circumstances, that need the active Christian presence to change their life.
Dr. James Dobson: Ah, all right. The second objective.
Mike Yankoski: Second objective was to understand more of what Paul means in Philippians 4:11, "I know what it means to be content in any circumstance, whether I have everything or nothing, a full stomach or an empty stomach, because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Dr. James Dobson: Are you a different man for having gone through this?
Mike Yankoski: Absolutely. In so many different ways.
Dr. James Dobson: Could you take a whole lot that you didn't think you could endure?
Mike Yankoski: Yeah, absolutely. I think so often Christ calls us into circumstances that we don't want to go into. He says, "Do you trust me? Will you follow me? Will you step out in faith? Even when it doesn't make sense, even when it seems hard, even when it seems impossible." As we step out, and realize that it doesn't matter the circumstance. It doesn't matter where we are, what we're doing, what God has put around us, it's that we are in Him. Our identity is in Christ. That became so much more the foundation of my life, Sam's life. Because, we did it in that perspective. So often having to say, "Okay, God, we prayed for food today, but you didn't answer that prayer. We didn't make enough money panhandling. Doesn't rock our faith in you, Christ. You are our Lord. We stand strong in you, even though it's difficult."
Dr. James Dobson: What did it feel like to go to bed, there wasn't a bed. Turn in for the night, hungry? Not having anything to eat all day. You're still a growing boy. What are you? Six three?
Mike Yankoski: Yeah, six, three.
Dr. James Dobson: You need food. That must have really been difficult.
Mike Yankoski: It was interesting. Sam and I lost about 25 pounds when we were out on the streets. One incidence I remember, we were in Berkeley, and we had gone about a day and a half without getting any food. Couldn't make any money panhandling. We were in People's Park, and this church came out to minister to people in People's Park. It was amazing, because we'd been rejected by a church earlier that morning, and just starting to get frustrated. These two guys, these younger Christian guys, probably 25, and then 17, was how old the other one was, came and brought sack lunches out, set them down in the park, and just started hanging out with people. That was phenomenal. To be in the same place as one another, and to engage in conversation, hang out, make friends, that's where the gospel happens, and where it goes forth. It did, in that circumstance.
Dr. James Dobson: Your identity was preserved out there. You didn't go tell everybody what you were doing.
Mike Yankoski: No, you're exactly right. We found that it wouldn't be safe actually, for us to go out and say, "Hey, this is an experiment." Even in the homeless community, just because we were there, and sleeping underneath of the bridges next to them. They never asked us, and questioned whether or not we were actually supposed to be there.
Dr. James Dobson: All right, let's hurry on to the third objective. Cause I'm really interested in this one.
Mike Yankoski: The third objective was to see how the American church is engaging homelessness. Jesus Christ makes so many statements about taking care of the least of these. We read in the gospels about how he's engaging with the men and the women that nobody else wants to hang out with. He's reaching out to the prostitute. He's reaching out to the leper. He's making the time, even in His busy schedule, to hang out with people, and to say, "Hey, you know what? I love you. My father loves you." Then he calls us, as his disciples to go and do likewise. We wanted to answer the question. Are we doing that?
Dr. James Dobson: In as much, as you do it under the least of these, my brethren, you were among the least of our brothers, weren't you?
Mike Yankoski: Yeah, we were for that time.
Dr. James Dobson: You just implied that you didn't get help from a church that morning. Tell us that story.
Mike Yankoski: That morning was very interesting. We had actually walked up to a church, having not eaten as I said, in about a day and a half. Walked into the church service just about 10 minutes before it was to begin, and asked a few of the people standing in the Narthex area, if they could help us out, if we could get some help from it, we haven't eaten a day and a half. I had a really bad sore infected on my foot, that was just festering, and really uncomfortable, because we couldn't take care of it. Couldn't get any medical attention. But the people in the Narthex said, "You know what? We're here to worship right now. We can't help you out." When did worship...
Dr. James Dobson: They're here to worship, but you were not invited to be part of the worship.
Mike Yankoski: When did worship become separated from loving your neighbor as yourself? I believe so strongly that Jesus empowers us to change the world for his father's glory.
Dr. James Dobson: How disillusioned were you, Mike? Were you irritated when you walked away from there?
Mike Yankoski: Very much, it was so frustrating to see men and women singing songs, lifting their hands in worship, and worshiping our God, but missing the fact that it's not just about Sundays. Worship is not just an amen at the end of a sermon, it's a lifestyle. After we got rejected by the church in Berkeley, going to People's Park, these guys engaged us. Gave us the different resources, sack lunches. Then that evening invited us to their church service at 6:00 PM. We went to the church service, and before it even started Russ, one of the guys that we met, came up and asked us to go around to the back of the church.
He popped open his trunk, and inside, were two bag folds of groceries, full of bread, peanut butter, jelly, canned beans, soup. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out an envelope full of cash, and said, "Hey, you know what? We know you guys are trying to get onto the next city. Here's enough money to go buy a Greyhound ticket." They didn't know what we were doing. We never told them all of the story about how we were trying to experience what homelessness was, and how the church engages it. They saw the need, and reached out in love, in order to glorify the Lord.
Dr. James Dobson: I wonder if they're going to read about themselves in this book?
Mike Yankoski: I do as well. I hope so, because it's such a testimony to living this thing called faith.
Dr. James Dobson: Oh, the bottom line from your experience with the church, and being in need, is what?
Mike Yankoski: Jesus came. Not for the healthy, but for the sick.
Dr. James Dobson: I know what he said. What did you experience?
Mike Yankoski: We, as Christians have to be involved. We have to be engaged. If we're the light of the world, we have to be present in the places that need to see it most. But I think so often, we look at what a person is like, or the situation that they're in and say, "We don't want anything to do with you." It's entirely backwards. When we look at people, and push them away from the place that has the solution to the problem they have. Then I've heard many accounts of people having similar experiences where they tried to reach out, and it just didn't work. The person didn't accept it, or got frustrated with them, and turned away. It's very possible that someone was thinking about reaching out, and wanting to do that, but then just decided not to because of a memory of a past experience. I think that every person that we encounter would need to be loving towards them, embrace them.
Dr. James Dobson: And God loves them.
Mike Yankoski: Yeah, exactly.
Dr. James Dobson: Oh, my goodness, Mike. This was such an important journey, and it's all here in this book. A very interesting read. How were you changed, as a result of going through this?
Mike Yankoski: Change was all over the place. I believe so much, that the biggest change in me, is just a desire to know the Lord and to say, "No matter the circumstance, doesn't matter where we are. He wants to use us, and work through us." We have to trust him, because I believe that as we all, as the body of Christ, start to learn that more, it makes the streets look different. Because, the spirit of God works through us, to reach out to different people, and to engage them, and to say by our actions that you are loved. And you have hope in this.
Dr. James Dobson: You regret those five months?
Mike Yankoski: Not at all.
Dr. James Dobson: Were they tougher than you thought they were going to be?
Mike Yankoski: Much tougher than I thought they were going to be.
Dr. James Dobson: When you see a homeless person today, what goes through your mind?
Mike Yankoski: So many questions. Where did you sleep last night? Where have you been, that has led you here, and having had this experience, Sam and I both just feel more of an ability to go out, and just engage in conversation. Because, you have that bridge a little bit to be able to engage him and say, "Hey, what's going on? And how can we help you? And what would you like tonight?"
Dr. James Dobson: What was the first bath or shower like?
Mike Yankoski: When we came back, I remember so vividly standing in the bathroom, looking at the mirror, and just couldn't believe what I saw. Because we were, I was filthy. Absolutely filthy, had lost quite a bit of weight, really mangled hair, all over the place, scraggly beard. I just got into the shower, and just sat there, shampooed three times, and the water coming off was still black.
Dr. James Dobson: And your first big meal was provided by whom?
Mike Yankoski: First big meal. We went to a local restaurant, and just sat there. Could not believe the fact that we had used to have to walk miles to get a glass of water. Now, we could just ask the waiter to bring us a new cup and there it was. It was entirely different. The thankfulness of saying, "Lord, sometimes you provided for us through a garbage can. Now you're providing for us through a restaurant, but thank you. It's Lord be praised."
Dr. James Dobson: You're excited about this book?
Mike Yankoski: Very excited about it. Just hoping that it causes some change.
Dr. James Dobson: The title of it is, Under the Overpass, A Journey of Faith On the Streets of America. Young people ought to read this, shouldn't they?
Mike Yankoski: Yeah, I believe so. I think that it's such a story of leaping out in faith and saying, "God, where do you want me to go?" That's what so many of my friends, high school, college age, junior high, are just asking, and wanting to know more about living this faith.
Dr. James Dobson: What did your folks think when they saw you after you came back from this journey?
Mike Yankoski: It was really interesting how the Lord used this, and that story in my parents' lives, and drew them closer to Himself through this. It's been amazing to watch, but man, I know that they were just biting their nails staying up late at night. When some of the stories came back about what we were experiencing.
Dr. James Dobson: Mike, you seem like a young man that I would really like to know a whole lot better. Ryan suggested that we do this program, and he was right. You're friends with him, and have been for some time. I just hope that you'll come back, and see us. You got any more adventures that you're planning?
Mike Yankoski: We'll see what it is. We'll see what it is. None at this point right now.
Dr. James Dobson: The main thing is you love the Lord with all your heart, and you did this because of that. It was a desire to serve him. Wasn't it?
Mike Yankoski: That's exactly right. Exactly right. Look it up and saying, "Lord, what would you have?" Yes.
Dr. James Dobson: God's blessing to you, Mike.
Mike Yankoski: You as well. Thank you.
Roger Marsh: Well, I certainly hope you've been encouraged by Mike Yankoski's testimony of his time on the streets, living as a homeless man in the U.S. for five full months. The Bible makes it clear that as Christians, we are the body of Christ. We are the church, and we are commanded to care for the poor, and the destitute of the world. We should be the most reliable volunteers at homeless shelters, and the people most likely to provide for the needy in times of crisis. Well, if you missed any of Dr. Dobson's two day conversation with Mike Yankoski remember, you can listen to both programs when you visit drjamesdobson.org/familytalk. That's drjamesdobson.org/familytalk. Or if you have questions about the ministry of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, or perhaps a prayer request that you'd like to share, please give us a call at (877)732-6825.
We have team members standing by round the clock to answer your questions, to pray with, and for you. Again, that toll free number is (877)732-6825. Finally, please write to us with your thoughts about the program, or how this ministry has impacted your life. Dr. Dobson loves hearing from his listeners in this way, and we make sure that every letter, card, and note is read. Our ministry mailing address is, The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute PO Box 39000 Colorado Springs, Colorado. The zip code, 80949. Again, our ministry mailing address is, The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute. PO Box 39000, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The zip code, 80949. Well, thanks again for listening, and be sure to join us again next time. Right here, for another edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.
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