Today, I found myself in a familiar and frustrating situation. A woman came into the Ministry Center asking about a few of her needs; shoes for her work uniform at her new job and shelter. I listened to her story, she has been homeless for several months and how hard she had worked to get this job.
She told me she would be fine once her first paycheck came in, but right now she needed somewhere safe to go…somewhere she could study for the menu test for work tomorrow and shower so she could show up to work looking presentable. The shoes were a need we could meet, but for shelter, I had to tell her the same thing I tell people over and over day after day: “There is no emergency shelter in Conway or Faulkner County.”
A few nights ago I dreamed of my Mother's hands. Her long slender fingers draped over a chair arm. Why I dreamed such a thing I don't know. Maybe I just miss them, her, or maybe it was brought on by spending time with my older sister who seems to have captured the very structure of my mother's hands in her own. I find it a strange thing to dream of but as I sit here collecting my thoughts, I realize that maybe there is comfort and a purpose for it.
On the way to school this morning my 15 year old daughter asked me to explain the difference between sympathy and empathy. Bless her heart. I think she just wanted a simple answer, but...her momma works in the ministry of social justice.
I explained that sympathy feels compassion, takes genuine pity, and hopefully responds with some degree of comfort. Empathy, on the other hand, seeks to feel what the other person feels, relates personally and emotionally to the other’s circumstances. It feels the heartbreak, the fear, the injustice, and the desperation. It runs deep and responds authentically.
A few days ago I left the campus early to head across town for an appointment. I made my way into traffic and got stuck at the light at Oak and Harkrider. I looked over towards Walgreen's and noticed a guy flying a sign. "He's new", I thought. I haven't seen him around before. I wondered what his story was and was he homeless or an "entrepreneur" as I like to call them.
I scanned the horizon and saw someone I did recognize crossing the cross walk towards the man on the corner. I will call him "Jacob" for the sake of protecting his identity. I met Jacob my first summer with the Ministry Center. We had just launched the Storehouse and it was a blazing summer day with only one A/C unit working in that old building. I called Jacob's name for his turn to shop. "JAKE" are you ready... and saw a young man in a suit with sweat pouring off of him. He looked at me and said my name is "Jacob". I apologized and told him that I wouldn't get it wrong again. We spent some time talking while he waited in line to shop and I realized that he was both childlike and brilliant and struggled with mental illness.
As I watched him cross the street my mind reeled back to a day earlier when I saw him in another part of town. He was walking as always, his fist in the air screaming at a car that had cut it a bit close as it railed into a local fast food joint. To be honest, I probably would have raised my fist in the air and yelled also but I can get away with it because I don't look homeless. I also knew that Jacob was having one of his bad days because on his good days he wouldn't have said anything. He is one of the most gentle souls I have ever met.
Case Manager - Conway Ministry Center
near, comfort and guide. There is something that happens down deep in our soul when people that love Jesus lift you up and lay you and your brokenness at the feet of Jesus.
As I have thought about those moments...my mind drifts to our clients. I wonder if they experience that heavenly exchange of brokenness for hope when our volunteers and staff pray with them. We never force or require prayer with our clients but we make a place for it in every thing that we do. If someone is willing to venture into that space we gladly ask Jesus to come fill it.
Housed and unhoused... those with abundance and those facing food insecurity. Stability and poverty mingling together...African American, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian all intertwined. Life circumstances are the great equalizer. We will all experience the death of the people we love, we will all experience health crisis' in one form or another. If we live long enough, we will all experience our golden years and the challenges that comes with our bodies preparing to go back to the dust from which it was formed.
We are all the same no matter how society likes to put us in respective boxes of class, housing status or ethnicity. We all need to be lifted up to our Creator. We all need to hear the Gospel message of a Saviour that loves us, that died for us and that wants all of our broken pieces.
We all need to experience the heavenly exchange of hope for brokenness that happens when Jesus steps into our midst because two or three are gathered together in His name.
Author - Mike Rush
and long-term drug addiction. He's between homelessness and residential security; between poverty and self-sustaining; between a lost significant other, and a life on his own.
So, we spent the day together and he volunteered his time on projects throughout. We talked about what could be a plan for his life. Get, and maintain, sobriety; maybe we could help you get into a facility. Obtain his Medicaid card, and his SNAP provisions, which our case management program could help him do. After those, secure affordable housing, just for you, where you could take care of just you.
I waited in the truck while he turned in his key, to an apartment on which he hadn’t kept up payments, to his landlord. I thought over his situation and prayed over his heart. When he returned, I said, “Just think what your life could be like when you’re sober, eating a good diet, and getting the sleep you need. Imagine that no one in your life manipulates you into doing something you don’t want to do. And you never make a decision out of guilt, or shame, or fear.”
Later, I dropped him, and the small bag he carried which held all of his worldly belongings, at Bethlehem House for a shower and maybe a meal and conversation. Before he got out of the truck I told him that I loved him, and that I was proud of the progress he’d made that day.
And as I watched him go, I hoped and prayed that he would follow through with his plan to stay at our warming station that night. And, that in the morning, he’d show up and we’d figure out another day together.
Author - Laura King
Volunteers are what make the Warming Station happen during the winter...hundreds of them in a ten week period. Folks to cook meals and serve them each night. Men and women prepared to stay awake all night long to ensure the safety and well being of our guests.
A few weekends ago I got the opportunity to stay overnight after we unexpectedly had some spots that needed filled. I have helped in overnight shelters before but I was deployed to disaster areas where mother nature had ravaged a communities. I knew that this was going to be a different experience for me and was excited to spend community time with those that I only get to have small infrequent conversations with.
My night to serve finally came and it was bitter cold...the wind was howling. I got to the Warming Station a little before 6pm and our friends were huddled everywhere waiting to check in. It was so cold that we opened early so that they could get out of the elements. The Station was quickly almost at capacity. Each guest signed in and checked their one or two bags and then headed over to the community room for dinner.
Dinner time was jam packed. Every seat was taken and many were standing. Volunteers were serving an amazing spread. Plates were heaped over and some were going back for seconds. It just so happened that it was family meeting night. A night where Spring comes to the Station...ok, let's be real she is up there a lot of nights. But certain nights are set aside to give any new information and go through light housekeeping details.
There were a lot of interesting questions being asked, some of it to colorful to write about and then there was prayer. After going through her list, Spring simply said "let's ask God to help us" and begin to pray. That tiny, packed room went quiet. Heads began to bow, weathered hands clasped together. As she finished, you heard some of their voices crack as the "amens" rang out. I will never forget those moments. Moments when Jesus showed up in a room full of voiceless, unseen people. People who are normally discarded had an audience with Jesus and it was beautiful.
Not long after a movie was put on and some pretty intense games of UNO ensued. I had the privilege of interviewing a handful of folks who wanted to tell their story. They wanted to give back in some way because they were so thankful for what the community was doing for them. I met people who had only been homeless a few weeks, some over a year. I met moms with children, young couples and senior citizens all with a story...all with hopes and dreams for their future,
It was 10:30pm and time for lights out. I cut the lights and my friend and I settled into our chairs to begin our watch over the room full of women and families. It wasn't long before the life song of snores rang out. We looked at each other and knew it was going to be a long night. I don't know if snoring is a prereq...but they all had it down pat. It was peaceful and warm as we put in our earbuds to make sure we stayed awake over the next several hours and also to drown out the snoring.
I watched the sun come up the next morning as I recounted the events of the evening before. Thankful that I gave up a night's sleep to see what God was doing first hand. Thankful to be a part of something so amazing going on in our city. Thankful to have a meaningful connection with the very people that we advocate for everyday. Now I know their names and their stories. Now more than ever before I know that they are just like me, with a past and families, hurts and victories.
I cannot unsee what I have seen or unhear what I have heard and with that knowledge comes responsibility. The call to give voice to the voiceless rings ever louder in my heart.
Author - Laura King
I walked out the office door with my backpack on my shoulder. The wind hit my face as I stepped out and caused me to look up. There were already cars in the parking lot, people were already gathering in our courtyard. Not just a few...dozens...dozens of Conway's unsheltered and they were here for the Winter Warming Station. Men, women and children huddled together waiting for check-in which was over two hours away.
I have spent more time at the Warming Station this year than last, although not nearly as much time as the rest of our staff. I was there when the doors opened on December 16th and saw the worn out bodies begin to steam in, fear, relief, and exhaustion splashed across their faces.
I slipped in on Christmas Eve Eve or December 23rd to some, as the new church volunteers were being trained for the evening. I saw a different kind of fear along with excitement and wonder as they got ready to open the doors for the night. I had the pleasure of taking my Dad with me and watched him struggle to take it all in...trying to reconcile what he was seeing.
Christmas morning...I saw weathered men and women sit reverently still as a ten year old little girl opened a small pile of presents by the tree. Each one opened with the most gentle touch, I am forty years old and I still rip the paper open with wild abandon. She took her time, paused to examine each item before moving on. I can still hear the "oohs" and "aahs" and "isn't that nice" from chairs around her. I watched her parents and their conflicted emotions as each gift revealed itself. Their first Christmas without a home. So thankful that their child had presents to open. yet I saw the defeated look of failure at the current place they found their family.
Grown men with cracked hands reached into stockings and their eyes lit up as they pulled out the items within. One woman let out a squeal of excitement as she squeezed her new pair of socks. You could hear the conversations going on and on about the gift cards to local fast food places that they had received. The cards ran out before the people did and several folks offered to share theirs until we could buy more.
January 2nd, I made my way to the Warming Station right as check-in was taking place. I crossed the parking lot and headed up the stairs. I looked across the yard and saw a well dressed young woman get out of a mini-van with a car seat in one hand and a toddler in the other. I remember thinking that she looked out of place and just figured she must be with the volunteer church that week.
I was catching up with Neil one of the night managers when that little curly headed toddler beat her mom to the top of the stairs. She ran to Neil and grabbed him by the legs. He picked her up as she grinned and laughed and then he proceeded to tell "Mom" that check-in had started and she could go sign in.
"What??? They don't belong here". The confusion in my mind found it's way to my face. Neil told me that they had shown up Christmas day not long after I had left that morning. My mind was racing. What was their story? How had they ended up here? How is it possible that I still hold a stereotype of homelessness after all this time?
I know better. I've seen the faces...I've heard the stories. I tell the stories when I go to churches and organizations and speak. I tell people that homelessness isn't just the guy flying a sign on the street corner. Over and over I tell people that the causes of homelessness are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Part of my job is educating the public and trying to break down the barriers and stereotypes. Yet, there I stood, speechless...trying to reconcile how this well put together woman and toddler could need the Warming Station.
The truth is...I encounter people everyday and I size them up and judge them based on what I see. Even knowing the truth, I still get blinded by prejudices in my heart that I thought were no longer there. Jesus showed up in the form of a beautiful, curly haired toddler that night and gently laid His finger on a darkness that lingered in my heart.
I think it's easy to look past people that don't run in our circles and even the guy on the street flying a sign. We have to be intentional about truly seeing people. We have to be vulnerable and allow the pain that ensues from what we see. We need to let Jesus in to fix our brokenness.
I am immersed in this culture everyday and thought I was immune. I thought I was immune to the stereotypes and prejudices but I still had blindness in my eyes. I am still broken and in need of a Savior just like my homeless brothers and sisters... just like the folks that run in my circle.
There is an old children's song written by Joel Hemphill - He's Still Working on me
"He's still working on me To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be 'Cause He's still workin' on me
There really ought to be a sign upon my heart
Don't judge him yet, there's an unfinished part
But I'll be better just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master's loving hands
In the mirror of His word Reflections that I see
Makes me wonder why He never gave up on me
But He loves me as I am and helps me when I pray
Remember He's the potter, I'm the clay
He's still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
'Cause He's still workin' on me
This new year I am seeing with new eyes. I pray that He would never cease to prick my heart and open my eyes to His Truth over my own perceptions....that He would keep "working on me".
Author - Laura King
I felt Him tug on my heart before I was even what you call "good and awake". I sat up on the edge of the bed and felt this urge to spend some of my day volunteering in the Storehouse Pantry. The thought hadn't even finished processing before I told God how much I had to do at the office and I brushed it off and went about my morning routine.
Thoughts of the day ahead of me flooded my mind as I went through a mental check list of what needed to get done while I fumbled with my keys at the office door. I began to hear footsteps behind me getting closer. I turned and saw one of my favorite clients from the Pantry.
I smiled and asked her how she was doing. She managed a smile and said things were tough. She looked exhausted and stressed. Thinner than I remember her, shoulders slumped...she is one of our senior clients and what we call a " walker", meaning she doesn't have transportation so she walks several blocks to the pantry.
We talked for a few minutes, she told me that she had just lost her Mom as tears welled in her eyes. My mind raced back to the evening before when I held a picture of my Mother and myself in my hands. I totally understand the pain that was beginning to trail down her cheeks. I asked if I could give her a hug and asked God to bless her and touch her heart. She clung to me and said " thank you for hugging someone like me, i really needed that".
"Someone like her"...I stared into her eyes and saw myself. I saw the same pain and brokenness that so often meets me in the mirror. "Someone like her"...
She asked my if she had to have an ID to shop, she had forgotten it when she left her apartment on foot. " No, go get checked in..they will take care of you" I replied. She said " thank you" as she grabbed my hands. I told her that I loved her as she turned towards the Storehouse.
I am thankful for God's gentleness with me even when I am often not very gentle with Him. I chose to brush Him off this morning and instead of chastising me, He sent a gentle message in the form of my friend. I wasn't about to ignore Him a second time. I dropped my stuff of in the office and headed to find Mike to see if they could use a little help at the Storehouse.
God knows what we need and exactly when we need it. My purpose in the Pantry this morning had nothing to do with me helping and everything to do with God loving on me because i am...I am "someone like her". I was tired, overwhelmed and exhausted just like she was. Our minds both racing as to how we could make things work, yet knowing that in and of ourselves we were going to fall short. Our life circumstances in many ways are different but our spiritual needs are the same. We needed God to show up and love on us this morning and He did. i experienced Jesus in every volunteer and client I came into contact with. Hugs, smiles, joy, prayer, tears, love.
So many broken hearts come to this campus. They come in beat down, feeling unworthy, feeling like they are less than and tired of fighting the daily battles of survival. They come searching to have a physical need met and God does this miraculous thing of meeting them where they are and speaking life into them. He meets all of us broken people that way...right where we are...because no matter if our clothes are tattered or nice, we have a vehicle or are afoot, young or old, healthy or weak, hungry or full, orphaned or not, we are all "someone like her.