Extending God's Hand to the Homeless
Free Will Baptist women share God's love with those often forgotten...
All of us have seen them. An ill-kempt man holding a sign on the street corner. The woman dressed in unseasonable layers, pushing a shopping cart loaded with treasures. But what about the family living at a local campground? Or the young person with a backpack sleeping on a bench at a local park? The 2012 State of Homelessness in America report numbers our nation’s homeless population at 636,017. Although most Americans typically associate homelessness with large urban areas, rural homelessness is on the rise. In large cities and in small towns, homelessness presents a challenge and an opportunity for sharing God’s love.
Nearly every community provides some avenue of care for its homeless, and over 60% of homeless individuals find temporary shelter. Yet “nearly four in ten remain unsheltered, living on the streets or in cars, abandoned buildings or other places not intended for human habitation.”1
How do we follow Scripture’s admonition to feed the hungry and bring the homeless poor into our homes, when these individuals seem unwilling or even resistant to seek shelter? Three Free Will Baptist Women Active for Christ groups are currently reaching out, extending God’s Mighty Hand to the unsheltered homeless in three distinct ways.
#1 - Satisfy the
West Tulsa Women Active for Christ | Greater Tulsa Women Active for Christ,
This cannot be true.
How can this be true?
This is true.
My thoughts exploded as I listened to statistics in a presentation by Tom, a Veteran’s Administration LCSW (licensed clinical social worker).
Homeless...veterans. In my mind, these two words should never go together, but sadly, they often do. In his presentation, Tom described contacts with veterans in day centers, soup kitchens, shelters, parks, and under bridges.
Our city alone claims over 200 documented homeless U.S. military veterans. At least that many more undocumented veterans remain on the streets each night. How did this happen?
During the Great World Wars, military men and women came home to families and homes supportive of them and “their war.” America lauded heroes with ticker tape parades and provided them low-interest housing and car loans, job offers, and the GI Bill to finance college educations. Although many of these veterans suffered from what was then referred to as “shell shock,” most of them plodded through. They went to work, took care of their families and homes, often hiding great fear when they closed their eyes each night. Most did not seek any kind of counseling, nor were they referred for any kind of post-combat treatment. Things are different now.
Many of today’s combat veterans return home, bringing with them PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and traumatic brain injury. They may hold down a job or carry on a meaningful relationship for a while, but often begin to bounce, never able to settle back into civilian life. The rapid pace and urgency of combat remains ever in the forefront of their psyche and affects every aspect of their lives, from their own personal health to their relationships. Domestic violence, divorce, drugs, job loss, homelessness, or suicide may result as fallout in these fragile lives. Many do not know where to turn for help or fail to realize help and counseling are available.
With this ugly truth in front of us, how would we respond? Yes, something was wrong, and we needed to help. Such a huge problem seemed far out of our realm of making a difference…yet we could do something.
Tom shared one concrete way we could help: hygiene bags—one-gallon zipper-lock bags filled with goodies. This idea seemed a relief to us, knowing we could actually do something above and beyond our prayers.
The information we received that night deeply affected Jo Ann, a prayer warrior in our group. She asked the pastor for some of his pulpit time to share her burden. Claiming Isaiah 58:10, “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday,” she placed a challenge before the church for at least 50 hygiene bags. By the next Sunday morning, church people had brought in nearly 100 bags. The Greater Tulsa District WAC, as well as a local home school group, joined the effort. Together, the groups donated 500 bags.
Each bag contained socks, gloves, washcloth, soap (inside a snack-size bag), hand sanitizer, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, and comb. Some bags also included a stocking cap or scarf, along with candy or nuts and a phone card. All bags contained a Scripture card and “help phone numbers.”
The Isaiah passage became real in the following days and weeks as Tom distributed the hygiene bags the group had made and reported his experience. “Who gave this to me?” “Why did they do this?” “You mean someone that I don’t know did this for me?” These are the phrases he heard from veterans as he handed out the bags. As Tom relayed this to us, I could imagine these individuals asking the same questions about Jesus concerning His sacrifice and gift of life to us.
A few dollar store items in a zipper-lock bag might seem a small thing. But these token gifts prove well worth the effort if they cause “the darkness to be as the noonday,” reflecting God’s love and bringing someone closer to Jesus.
#2 - Sewing With a Servant’s Heart
Women Active for Christ |
First Free Will Baptist Church,
Eight years ago, Donna MacBride retired and moved from New Jersey to Virginia, near her son and his family. She found a home in Glen Allen and a church home at First FWB Church in Richmond. Once settled, she began looking for something to do. Knowing her need and her heart, Donna’s sister Kathleen shared information about My Brother’s Keeper, a national organization that provides homeless individuals with sleeping bags and tote bags filled with personal items. She even sent Donna sewing patterns and instructions. “This is easy,” Donna thought.
Not long after that, her pastor spoke one Sunday on having the heart of a servant. He shared his burden for the homeless in Richmond. With the downturn in the economy, this ministry seemed urgent and vital. After much prayer and pondering, Donna decided to take the next step. She presented her WAC a plan for making sleeping bags and tote bags.
Women started collecting needed items. Many church members brought clean, used blankets, sheets, bedspreads and towels for filler in the bags. Donna sewed for days, using every scrap of material she could get her hands on to make those first bags. God guided, and Servant’s Heart ministry grew.
As many as eight women now meet weekly at the church to share, sew, and enjoy lunch together. For some, it’s time away from a lonely house; for others the meeting provides opportunity to pray together for church and family needs. Women often invite friends. Over the past five years, Servant’s Heart has sewn more than 300 sleeping bags and 400 totes.
Volunteers secure donations from friends and other sources and gather travel-size shampoos and soaps for filling the totes. Women take the completed items to the Salvation Army and another local church for distribution
Donna says, “I have never felt the call to go to the mission field, but have found a mission right here in Virginia. A servant’s heart has led me this far, and I love serving my Lord. He said, ‘if you do it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ I sometimes try to think that Jesus is sleeping in one of these sleeping bags.”
#3 - Hands-On Handouts
Union Grove Women |
Active for Christ, Atkins, Arkansas
Women Active for Christ at Union Grove FWB Church in Atkins, Arkansas, takes a personal, hands-on approach in reaching out to the homeless. Women periodically meet together to pack food bags. These clear, gallon-size zipper-lock bags contain bottled water, protein bars, crackers, and pieces of fresh fruit. Sometimes, women also include small toiletry items along with the food and drink or attach Scripture verse cards to water bottle labels.
The group divides the finished bags among women in their congregation, encouraging each person to keep a supply of the bags in her vehicle. Whenever she encounters a homeless individual, or sees someone needing food, she can offer the person one of these already-prepared bags.
WAC president Betty Hambright credits Kortlind Baker, a college student who attends Union Grove, for this practical idea and ongoing project. Not only do women have something on hand to share, the bags also serve as a hands-on object lesson for children, allowing whole families to become an extension of God’s Mighty Hand.
About the Writers: Tracy Payne is president of Oklahoma Women Active for Christ. A pastor’s daughter now a pastor’s wife, she serves alongside her husband Russell in the church her father once pastored. Thanks also to Donna MacBride, Brenda McPeak, Betty Hambright, and Lisa Bowden who contributed information.