Tennessee pastor spends five days undercover as homeless man

A Tennessee pastor spent five days undercover as a homeless man before stepping in front of his new congregation for the first time.

Rev. Willie Lyle, the newly-appointed pastor of Sango United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., decided to directly experience the lifestyle he always preached about combating.  The idea came to him in a dream he had about an encounter with God, who told him it was something he needed to do.

“I had a dream about the Lord who asked me to do this in the middle of the night,” Lyle told FoxNews.com.  “I woke up at 2am after he asked me to do this.  It wasn’t really an idea I came up with, but I knew I had to do it.”


His wife Suzette took him to downtown Clarksville the morning of June 17, where he stayed uncomfortably until the morning of June 21.

Lyle was originally uneasy about living on the streets with nothing for five days.  It would be an abrupt transition from having everything to essentially nothing.  He would have no money, and a difficult time finding food and shelter.  He also knew he would encounter other homeless people, whom many people perceive as dangerous.

“I was really pretty nervous about it because we have so many stereotypes about the homeless,” he said.  “That is the public perception.”

Throughout his experience however, he found that these perceptions are mostly just stereotypes created by society.

“I went ahead and did what God asked me to do, and I found out it is just a small portion of those people who are like that,” Lyle said.  “A large portion is really just the working poor trying to make ends meet.  It opened my eyes to the problem.  My experience was limited, but from what I saw that’s what I came to understand.”

Lyle found it difficult adapting to his temporary lifestyle.  He spent a lot of time on the streets, looking for places to eat and sleep.  One of the places he ate was a kitchen called “Loaves and Fishes” designed to feed the hungry.  He spent his nights sleeping on the porch of an abandoned house.

During the day, Lyle would stay in the shade, or hang out on a bench outside a local courthouse.  He often interacted with other homeless people in the area as well.

“The police would often come and tell them they couldn’t sleep in certain places,” he said.  “I would also go to the public library a lot.  A lot of homeless people would go there and just read for hours.”

On June 23, Lyle sat down under a tree on the church lawn before his first sermon, where covered himself with a big overcoat.  He remained unshaven with his hair still not combed.  He said about 20 people came to offer him some sort of assistance.  During the worship hour, his daughter-in-law cut his hair while his daughter helped him shave his beard.  Beneath his overcoat, he wore a suit and tie, as he revealed himself as the new pastor of the congregation.

““This was not some grandstand show on my part,” Lyle told The Leaf Chronicle.  “I wanted everybody to know what I had been through, what I had learned and the physical and emotional discomfort I experienced and that I am still dealing with.  And I made sure to mention more than once that Christ was not comfortable on the cross.”

Lyle told FoxNews.com that churches need to do more than just preach the Gospel to their communities.  He said personally living the experience helped him open up his eyes to this.    He feels feeding the poor and homeless is something people shouldn’t stop doing, but something they should continue to do while taking “feeding” a step further.

“The big question is what should we do about it,” he said.  “Many churches are feeding the hungry physically.  But we need to do more than that because they will just be hungry again the next day.  I think we need feed them spiritually and share the good news with them.  The good news of Jesus Christ is salvation, meaning there is hope for everyone.  And a lot of homeless people don’t know that, and they have no hope for themselves.  We need to make sure they do.”

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