“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” -Matthew 25:35
In the frosted air of mid December, where ice is forming, melting in the midday sun, only to refreeze in winter’s kiss at dusk; a man zips up his camping tent for the night. It will be another bitterly cold attempt at sleep, which has proven elusive and wrought with lingering aches in limbs and ligaments. The man wraps himself up in multiple blankets of mismatched colors, extinguishes the insignificant blue flame from the juniper green propane camp stove, and settles in for another volatile night of shivering slumber as the constant freeway noise clambers on.
As dawn slips past the horizon of the army green tent flap, which has been frosted and now baptized in a hopeful light; the man untangles himself from the layers of blankets and additional coats laid down in the middle of the night, a stop gap that offered little to no help. Having survived yet another night languishing in hypothermic rest, the men unzips the tent and stretches out the pain of cramping muscles and battered tendons. Shivering noticeably through the noise of his chattering teeth, he moves as quickly as his lumbering joints can move as he seeks out somewhere to warm his tired bones.
A few blocks away, the crimson glowing lights of a red shield inscribed with the words “Salvation Army” calls out to him. The backdoor to the gymnasium has been opened, and there will be warmth within. As he steps inside, the man encounters the soup kitchen cook, draped in a white billowing apron and a broad smile. “Good morning friend!” The cook says in a deep gravelly voice by way of greeting, “would you care for some coffee?” The shivering man nods and shuffles towards an open chair as others also begin to arrive. They too have anticipated this moment, and their search for warmth, food, coffee and conversation is at an end.
The homeless man, still shaking off the bone-seeping coldness in his body, has finally found a safe haven, and with it – his dignity and hope once more…
…The Rest of the Story (As Paul Harvey used to say)
This is just a glimpse into the lives of those we serve. Some have had it better than others…
I have sat in our gym and listened to the stories some of our patrons can tell.
Some of them have truly been through hell on earth.
Some battle with constant addictions.
Some with physical or emotional trauma.
All are God’s…they are His…and He speaks to us through their stories of brokenness, pain and sorrow.
He also prods us to do something about their suffering.
Yes, Dear Salvationist, it seems like an impossible and never ending task because poverty, addictions and homelessness seem to be constantly knocking on our doors. The situations are the same, but the faces change over time! The question is – are we available to help and are we receptive to the Holy Spirit’s leading? Are we here to be a light when the rest of the world has turned the light off, given up and walked away? Can we still provide hope and love even if that person is stuck in the cycle of crisis? Can we offer it without judgement? Yes, we ought never put a band-aid on deep wounds, but can we serve first then minister? Or can ministry truly be found IN the service and care of others?
Here is a reality check: Some may never darken the doors to our sanctuaries on a Sunday morning, but are they not still a member of our congregation if they are at our facility EVERY DAY for a warm meal and a safe place to sit and rest? I think we miss a far greater opportunity that can be found on Sunday morning if we don’t engage during these moments feeding and conversing. Dear Salvationist, these are our people too! They come to us because we are the harbor and they have been shipwrecked by life. What we say, how we show love, and what we do – MATTERS!
The story I shared with you today, is real.
This man came to our corps and community center years ago, homeless, suicidal and at the end of his rope. And because the doors to our gymnasium were open, and he found warmth in the company of people in our corps, he is alive today. His life (literally his life) was saved! I know that there are many more stories just like this one wherever a Salvation Army facility is located. Doing the most good isn’t some prideful declaration to the public, instead is ought to be a phrase we ask ourselves every day both personally and organizationally – “Am I/Are We – Doing the most good”?
Make a difference in the lives you reach for Christ, and know that our “congregation” is so much larger than just our soldiery on Sunday mornings!
The struggle is real to “make a difference” in the lives such as one shivering in the night. The sad reality is the “success rate” is disappointingly low, along the road to teach a man to fish, so to speak. But I’m struck by the simplicity of Jesus’ admonition, ” . . when you do it for one of the least”, it implies no assumption the life of “the least” will look dramatically different tomorrow . . . or ever! But ours is to keep making the soup, keep recycling the winter coat, keep insisting there’s hope and dignity; because there is.