by Hope Brookens
In the beginning of 2013, our church — Central Michigan Free Methodist Church in Mount Pleasant, Michigan — was approached by Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) about attempts at opening a homeless shelter in Isabella County.
ICRH is a nonprofit organization that has been behind the scenes for years prior, trying time and time again to get some sort of shelter for those who find themselves in the vicious circumstances of homelessness. The funding could not be secured. Enter in the church, the Lord’s bride, the body of believers to be the hands and feet of Jesus. CMFMC was approached by ICRH asking if our congregation would be willing to house homeless individuals for a week in the coldest months of winter. Of course, this proposition went before the Board of Ministry and was met with an amazing response: “If we believe in the Bible, how can we say no?”
That is where it all began. Yes, yes, yes, the church was in, but now a coordinator was needed to oversee the project. “Well, I don’t know about a coordinator position,” I said, “but I can surely go to the first meeting to make sure we get the information we need and know what the next step is.”
Little did I know that going to that first meeting would land me a co-coordinator spot for our church’s turn of housing the homeless, which I quickly found out are considered our “guests.” They were guests in our spiritual homes, as one of the people on the ICRH board liked to put it, to help get us into the kind of mindset necessary to sincerely try and look beyond the stereotypes, prejudices and initial impressions of people who live in homelessness. While awkward at the first meeting, this perspective was not difficult to have by the end of that first night. Each person was so unique in his or her story, journey and hopes for the future.
All we had to do is be prepared to house and feed about 20 guests each night (plus volunteers) for one week, just seven days and nights. Sounded easy enough, right? I quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of planning and scheduling and organizing that was to be required. Meal plans, snacks, people to cook those meals and provide the snacks; greeters, servers, clean-up crew; someone to do laundry, volunteers to stay up all night long in case of a need or emergency, and people willing to transport enough mats, bedding, totes, hygiene items, cleaning supplies and first aid supplies from one site to another (enough to fill a wall of a gymnasium – no joke). Oh my! That thought is a gross understatement of where my mind was at, but as I worked with another lady who felt it a crucial service that CMFMC be a part of, we just broke it down piece by piece.
People signed up to make the meals, provide the snacks and even come and serve and socialize and do all the other tasks that were necessary. It was an amazing outpouring of service and love. People who were not even part of our congregation asked if they could help because their co-worker or their friend goes to our church. It was a tremendous community effort and an amazing opportunity to represent the love that Christ has for all people. One of the most amazing complements, in my opinion, was in the county paper’s section for people to voice their opinions with one individual saying that it was about time the church did something nice. Even skeptics were on board. Amen!
Night after night, we set up, served and socialized. After seven nights, the rotating homeless shelter moved on to its next host site. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved. It was an overwhelming, exhausting experience, but then there was a sense of loss, like I was missing a bit of the purpose that had been driving me the previous week. What an awe-inspiring message that was to me, to not continue to let weeks at a time slip by without feeling like I am living and serving to my full potential.
I can’t say that means I should be running a homeless shelter or organizing those efforts. We will have to see what this winter brings, but I do know that it means I have to stay keenly aware of the opportunities around me to serve. It means I have to be willing to move forward, even if it is in baby steps, when I get that little nudge from God. Well, I call it a nudge. Some call it hearing from the Lord or feeling God’s presence. Some simply call it conviction (sorry for the scary churchy word) – but whatever you call it, let it be in the lead.