Several weeks ago I went to Salt Lake City to interview with a potential internship. I had to walk a few blocks alone in downtown. Little did I know that not all of downtown Salt Lake is like Temple Square. Even though it was 3 p.m. and broad daylight, I uncomfortably walked by dozens of homeless people, a crowd of young teenagers with extreme hair, piercings and tattoos; two men fighting about a beer, and I saw several individuals doing one type of drug or another. They asked me for money, they asked me where I was going, they gave me creepy compliments. I hadn't been in a situation like this since Paraguay. The tension, the sadness, the desperation, the contention...it was noticeable.
I have thought about these people many times since. This is the sobering truth: these people and I are not so different. I'm sure that before they got into the lives they're in now, we could have found common interests, laughed over the same things, had the same goals, wanted the same happy life. But somewhere, for some reason, on some particular day, each of them decided to do something that took them down a path of darkness. Or maybe they didn't conscientiously decide. Maybe it was something that happened to them. I can't help but think much of it has to do with poverty. While perhaps they are responsible for their actions to a degree, and while poverty is no excuse for doing crime or resorting to drugs and alcohol-- it is one of the lowest points someone can go. As Bill Stickland says in his book, Make the Impossible Possible: poverty distorts your vision, and vacuums all the hope from your soul. It hardens your heart, it can cheapen your life, warp those warm human emotions, and make you trade in your dignity out of desperation. "Hope is the one thing, the only thing that inoculates you from the madness, wherever you live. But where on those mean streets does a person find hope?"
"That's the real evil of poverty: it diminishes you, it starves you of hope and vision, it forces you to define yourself in terms of what you cannot do or cannot have or cannot be."
These precious but sad souls probably feel like a better life is impossible. That's why I wish I could teach them of Jesus. To them who define themselves in terms of what they do not have or cannot do, I want to teach them how possible everything really is because of the power of the Atonement. Because of Him, the impossible is made possible. Because of Him, they still have endless second chances, their past can be completely redeemed. I don't understand why they have been deprived of so much. I don't think it's fair what they've had to go through. But I do believe that all things that are unfair in life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And the more faith we have in Him, and the more we follow His gospel, the more access to that Atonement we have.
I got out of my interview with some time to spare. I walked three blocks up to the beautiful Salt Lake Temple. Merely setting foot on temple square caused a wave of the Spirit to flood over me. The feeling was the opposite of the oppressive, uncomfortable feeling on those sidewalks just a few blocks away. It's a spirit that whispers hope into your heart and focuses on a glorious future, while the feeling on those dark sidewalks is one that dwells on what has been lost and what has happened in the past. I pulled out my recommend and went inside the temple to do some temple work. The temple truly is heaven on earth. My heart ached with the desire that everyone could enter the temple and feel the serenity that is always present there. The faces of the people on those sidewalks came back to mind. I pictured the tears that would surely run down their cheeks if they were to enter those temple doors. Thankfully, Christ's church is the most inclusive one there is. Everyone, literally everyone who has ever been born, is invited to follow Him and become ready enter His House and eventually enter into His kingdom for eternity. (What other church sends missionaries into all the earth to invite literally everyone into His fold? Talk about being inclusive!) Because of Him, there is really no uncrossable barrier preventing anyone from the joy of the gospel and the peaceful life that comes with living it. Because of Him, that palpable despair I felt and saw in the eyes of those on the sidewalks of downtown Salt Lake City.....that despair can become hope. Share the message of Jesus Christ so that Only Hope can be found.