Last week we witnessed a historic storm. We had a blast sledding, building snowmen, pounding each other in snowball fights and then warming up by the fire with popcorn and hot tea. Our house was warm, our water flowed freely and our roof kept us dry. But this was not the case for many in Southwest AR. We had elderly people living in houses without heat, young men sleeping in cars and young women trying to keep their kids warm in minivans. We don’t realize how many neighbors we have who are just barely getting by until a freeze comes like the one we had last week.
When we decided to set up our gym as a shelter we had no idea what we would experience. We knew the Lord was in the decision but we were pretty clueless as to what would happen next. Let me share some stories of God’s activity among us.
Our week started when one of our men picked up a man out of the ditch where he’d slept the night before in freezing temperatures. Hope in Action cooked every single meal for us from Sunday all the way through Friday and the FUMC delivered almost all of those meals. Unity provided every single utensil and plate for those meals to be served on. Garrett Memorial cleaned our bathrooms every day and provided games for all the guys to play. Matt Pagels served as our dispatcher and a whole host of guys throughout the community picked up individuals, delivered meals and water and picked up desserts as the week progressed. APOM prepared a ton of desserts and brought them on Sunday. Pafford set up a mobile hospital in our activity room, rapid testing every person that came through the doors and stationed personnel in our shelter until Thursday afternoon. Hampton Inn provided towels and linens for us all week. Super One and Red River Credit Union brought blankets, water, towels and toilet paper. Countless people called to say they were praying and to see if there was a need in the moment they could meet. To see the community in action was and is always amazing. Y’all, we live in such an incredible place!
Throughout the week a whole group of us preacher/teachers rotated our way all the way through the book of Mark. There were not many moments each day when there wasn’t at least one Bible open or one God-centered conversation going on. Without a doubt these were my favorite times. As we walked our way through Mark we saw and heard the Spirit speak. One of the fruits of that time is one of the men surrendered to the ministry. I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.
One of my other favorite memories happened on Thursday. We got our hands on a bunch of shovels and went downtown to clean off the sidewalks. This was an awesome time to visit with these guys one on one as we worked alongside each other. I heard about men who lived in their cars and planned on staying there until they found out about the shelter. I heard about a guy who hitch hiked/walked his way to Hope Sunday night. As soon as he got to town he found out about our shelter and came. It was obvious the grace God was giving us as we progressed through the week.
Friday morning is when it all really came in for me though. We were mopping and cleaning up the gym and had some music playing. As I looked across the room I saw guys the Lord was changing in every direction. Guys who had been slaves to addiction for too long. Guys who were chosing to submit their lives to the Lord; who were, some for the first time, enjoying that heart of flesh instead of that old heart of stone. I was looking at this scene and I started to cry. I cried because I know how much God loves the broken-hearted. The visual in front of me was so clear it couldn’t be denied. I cried because I’ve grown to love these men God has placed in my life. And I cried because I knew many of them finally had a way out. That moment made such an impact on me. It will be a long time before I forget it.
The Bible is overflowing with commands to care for the poor and hurting. This cannot be a ‘side’ ministry of the Church run by just a few, compassionate people. This must be one of the mainline ministries we carry as a Body. We live our comfortable lives with scarcely more than a second glance at those around us who are hurting. We chalk up their pain to poor choices, a welfare society and a generational curse. While these are strong realities, many of the hurting in our midst are hard working people who just keep getting knocked down by a world that is bent on the survival of the fittest.
When the Lord is building His case against Israel in the beginning of Isaiah He says that He is sick of them playing church. He says the tasks He is pleased with are when His people seek justice, correct oppression, lift up the orphans and plead the widow’s cause. In chapter 58 of the same book God says an acceptable day in His book is when we “share our bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into our house, cover the naked and refuse to hide from the hurting.” Jesus says when we serve the least of these we serve Him.
The joy that comes as we serve those the world has forgotten is greater than any images our imaginations can provide. It is not a dry hole. This well of living water we dip into and pour out of can change the lives of those we share it with. Jesus asked the Father for His Kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. This is one of the best ways I know of to begin accomplishing that purpose today.