“Undercover Bag Lady”

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”

                                                                                               Revelation 3:17

Kim had worked with the homeless for decades, but recently she took on a “project” that took her more deeply into their world.  Disguising herself as a “bag lady,” she created an alter-ego named “Jean.” For several months this author went out incognito into her city in North Carolina, visiting churches of various denominations, from Catholic to Baptist to Pentecostal, from main-line denominations to non-denominational churches. She documented her experiences and compiled her findings in her newly-released book, Undercover Bag Lady: An Expose of Christian Attitudes Toward the Homeless.

This was a quick-read, even for this notoriously slow reader, not only because it’s not a lengthy book (less than 100 pages), but also because I found it so hard to put down. There was a chapter for each church/denomination “Jean” visited, and I was always eager to find out what she was going to experience the next week. (I was especially interested to see how she was received by the  denomination I belong to.)

For the most part, the way she was treated was deeply disappointing, especially considering that this region is considered part of the “Bible Belt.” Kim very candidly shares her fears about stepping into a different church each week and the devastation she felt from the rejections she received from those who are supposed to the most loving people on the planet.

(This book is convicting.)

Kim also relates some delightful surprises, such as the occasional person who extended great grace amid others’ cold and judgmental stares. She tells of the offers of help and gifts from individuals who possessed the compassion we should all have. She even confesses prejudice on her own part the day she fully expected terrible treatment from one individual based on her appearance, only to be proven wrong by a startling display of generosity.

(This book is inspiring.)

There was irony in the timing of a number of church visits; often the sermon dealt with caring for the needy, “being the hands and feet of Jesus.” Afterwards the congregation would file out, avoiding eye contact with the most obvious “Exhibit A” right in their midst.  I found myself silently coaching the church people –  Come on, guys, let’s think about what the pastor said today. Were you listening? Look around, what do you see?? What should you do???? But more often than not I was disappointed. – >AAUGH!!!<

(This book is frustrating.)

I’ve been praying for years that we would see a great revival in America … and waiting… After reading about Kim’s experience as a “bag lady,” it’s painfully obvious that one of the main things hindering revival is the Church. (What’s wrong with this picture??)  I doubt any revival is going to materialize as long as the Church on the whole is oblivious, if not outright hostile towards the needy. When the compassionate ones are the exception rather than the rule, people are going to have a hard time recognizing Christ in us. And if they can’t see Him in us, where will they see Him?

Jesus spoke of the Day of Judgment, as He will be judging His flock:

“Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did  not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.  …Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.”                                                                                                                                                                    Matthew 25:41-43, 45

Sobering words. (Did we think He was kidding?)

Kim is a dear friend of mine. When we both lived in Michigan, I would go with her and her husband to the Motor City Pride Parade to “love on” the LBGTQ community. The main reason for going was to share Christ with them, but the first objective was to try to undo the deplorable treatment so many of them had received from the Church. Step One is remembering that we are all sinners, and that we are agents of grace only because we ourselves are recipients of that grace. When there’s a sense of humble gratitude, rather than prideful superiority, there’s a much better chance those around us will see the Light and be drawn to it.

I wish I could get a copy of Kim’s book into the library of every church in America, better yet, into the hands of every person who calls himself/herself a follower of Jesus Christ. That being unlikely, I do want to urge anyone reading this blog, especially those who claim the name of “Christian,” to purchase a copy of Undercover Bag Lady: An Expose of Christian Attitudes Toward the Homeless, by Kim Bowman. Read it – you could easily finish it in one or two sittings. Then pass it on or order more to give away. Then act on what you’ve read. Pray about how you can make a difference. (P.S. You can invite Kim to come speak at your church, maybe start a tidal wave.)

What kind of revolution would take place in America if the “Body of Christ” actually started behaving like Jesus? Would we ignite revival?

There’s only one way to find out.

Prayer: Dear Lord, You have said that what we do to “the least of these,” we have done to You. Forgive us when we have been so wrapped up in our own lives that we have passed You by. Help us to remember that we are Your hands and feet. When there’s opportunity to show someone what You are like, may we rise to the occasion, raising others up as we go, in Your name.  Amen


51 thoughts on ““Undercover Bag Lady”

  1. Reblogged this on A Blog About Healing From PTSD and commented:
    Years ago, before my husband and I found the help we needed for our PTSD issues, we both became too disabled to work. We sold our plasma to buy food. Our electricity was cut off, and we were evicted when we could not pay rent. In the church we had been attending regularly for over a year, we were shunned. Exactly like this post describes.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks. Things are awesome, now. Just a little over a year ago, my husband and I purchased a very nice and comfortable house. The house isn’t perfect, it could use some work, and we had to take out a mortgage. But we have the means now to pay a mortgage and the work is coming along slowly.

        Meanwhile, I have my own room to write in and my own bathroom! Both with a great mountain view! Yaay! This is the best my life has ever been, and I am so grateful.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. “The very thing hindering a revival is the church,” very sad and true. I come from a community of churches, we have around 200 in our small city alone and yet you don’t generally see any open doors, outreach, etc. God will bring about a revival, but many churches will be left behind.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. So very profound. I would like to go undercover and do this in my own community. You are so right. Ghandi was attracted to Christ, and considered converting, but the attitude of Christians he met turned him off. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. About Ghandi…Really!? So sad we sack those who are genuinely coming to Christ.
      Just last week, I was at an outreach somewhere in the Volta Region of Ghana, Africa; I met this idol worshippers who could not stay in the church because of the attitudes church folks showed towards them and they turned back to their idols.
      God forgive us for scattering the flock, HE must be bleeding in Heaven and crying for these same ones.. the lost

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thoughtful post for us all. It reminded me of a pastor who did something very similar. In his very convincing homeless outfit and make-up, he held up his hand-written cardboard sign in the parking lot of his church on Sunday morning. He got the same response as your author. When it came time for the sermon during the service, he came to the pulpit dressed and made-up as he was in the parking lot. I wish I could’ve been there to hear the gasps. Of course, his sermon was more powerful because of the life-sized application. Good stuff. -Alan

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Awesome! Great idea! Yes, catching people being themselves is more effective than just preaching words that they may or may not take to heart.
    I also have heard of a pastor that said “Every day thousands of people die and enter into a Christ-less eternity, and most Christians don’t give a s**t.”
    After the collective gasp of outrage, he leaned over the pulpit and added, “And do you know what REALLY bothers me? Most of you are more upset that I said s**t than you are that thousands of people are going to hell.”
    (He got ’em.)

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is so important in this day and age when there’s so much bias, hatefulness towards aliens, a general lack of compassion, and division in this country. Amen for Kim going to the different churches to “research” people’s reactions. I look forward to seeing my own denomination there. Of course each church varies within a denomination, but the overall reaction to the poor by churches is so very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Terri. I know you’ll find the book very interesting. One thing that I found intriguing is that even in the most hostile churches there was always one or two people showing the utmost compassion. Kim’s narrative makes the reader want to be that person.


  7. I wish I get to read this book too… I’m trying what that pastor did, I’m posting the comment ”Every day thousands of people die and enter into a Christ-less eternity, and most Christians don’t give a s**t” on my status not to spite other Christians but to see our reactions and share this important message with them too. God bless you

    I’m bracing myself for all manner of comments

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Posted that on my WhatsApp status for a week continuously and I had quite the same reactions; only one person reposted on his own status, one person commented a sad emoji on my status post, some commented laughing emojis, many people bypassed that to comment on other posts on my status… this is not to say all those who didn’t comment didn’t agree with me or weren’t bothered about the lose, there are surely some who had been convicted after they read but didn’t comment at all, I’m more concerned about those who were more bothered about the word ‘s**t’ and they who just bypassed, all not bothered and those who thought this might be just one other funny post…
        Well, I shared a follow up Word on my status and shared all my status viewers how that we must return to the place where we are concerned about important things, let’s stop majoring in the minors and minoring in the major as per the standards of scripture. God bless you once more for sharing, this conviction should never leave us!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing the book review!
    I hope to get a copy soon..
    Each homeless person has their own story we can not assume..
    When I encounter the homeless I ask if they are aware of the shelters and soup kitchens near by..
    I try to help them if I am able.. many have said God Bless You.. and He will 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is sobering. Something I started noticing in churches in my country as well, Kenya, that has led to me not attending services anymore because it all feels very hypocritical. We go to church as a ritual;something we are expected to do and oh my what would people say if I stood going to Church, kind of reason. And we are not acting as the bride of Christ. And I’ve been brought up in the church and now I’m jaded. I’m looking, for a church that is about Jesus. Where Jesus is at the centre, meaning the actions of the people are Christ-like. Discipling, taking care of the widows, orphans and poor. Actually living out the life of a born-again Christian. Because the hypocrisy, it is doing the opposite of what Christ expects of us and it’s heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Special Creation Woman and commented:
    This is something I clearly need to read. And I can’t help wondering if some of my other friends might, too…. Anyway, if you read this, please be sure to thank the author who created it. It’s a powerful piece of writing! May God bless it powerfully!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think we still have a mindset in America that the homeless are bums who don’t want to work. We see people holding signs and stuff and I think we’ve just got immune to people’s issues.

    And I think the church has become a society gathering more than the modern day Tabernacle of the Congregation it should be.

    Liked by 1 person

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