I was recently in the downtown part of our city in the middle of a snowstorm while the temperature reached 0 degrees and below. I saw a man with a pack on his back, wading through the snow, obviously without a home and in need of shelter. He was freezing to the bone, cringing to stay warm, and tired from walking from whatever bridge he lived under.
What difference can I make? The need is so overwhelming. I live in the suburbs. It's out of my reach, not on my radar. I don't have time. That's someone else's ministry.
It's hard to believe that people live under bridges and on the streets through the winters of Buffalo, New York. My eyes have been opened in recent years. The need is overwhelming. I don't care what you think about a homeless person - how they got there, whose fault it was, or the need to be more responsible. I am the first to preach personal responsibility and the need to go get a job. But when someone is trying to make it through the night in below-freezing temperatures, it's time to do something!
I am probably more aware than most suburbanites of the needs in the city. As a pastor I get around. However, I will be the first to admit that I get wrapped up in my own world and am very focused on one foot landing in front of the other. The fact that someone could die tonight about 20 minutes away from where I live because they do not have warm clothing or a warm place to sleep is nowhere on my radar screen. It's not that I am not motivated, I just don't know how I can help.
So the question is how do I help?
How does a Christian help? How do we obey the call and serve the needs of people living desperate lives? Practically speaking, I really do not expect the people in our church to leave work at 5pm, go downtown to bridges and back alleys to hunt for people who are stranded outside in the middle of a snowstorm. And I'm the last person that will make them feel guilty about it. I struggle wondering how to get involved myself.
But there is an answer, and it's not that hard. Really it boils down to one word...
The key to successfully changing the world is all about doing it together. As the Bible says, "By which every part does its share." (Eph. 4:16)
The City Mission in Buffalo is one of the best ministries of its kind I have encountered. But they cannot do it alone. It takes a lot of money, volunteers, and contributions of clothing and personal items to keep things going. It also takes the fine-tuned communication channels that connect the dots from the homeless person in the cold to the average suburbanite sitting in our services on Sunday mornings.
Here is a layout of what just happened this past Sunday in our city and how Life Church Buffalo had an impact.
- The temperature dropped below 32 (down to 0 and below).
- The city declared "Code Blue" and several shelters, including the City Mission moved into action.
- Some people walked to the facility. But others were picked up in vans by people who know the streets. (These vans are gassed, bought and paid for by yours and my contributions.)
- They walk in the door and are given opportunity for a meal, a shower, and a cot to sleep on. By the way - that meal is only waiting because people like you and I paid for it.
- Then they give each person a new sweat suit to help keep them warm when they go back out in the cold in the morning. Many nights, they do not have enough sweat suits. Those items come from people like us.
That's where we came in.
Amy Goldsmith (a member of our congregation) knew that the City Mission needs a person like her in every church to be a volunteer representative. She stays connected and learns of how we can help.
Then she connects the dots.
The Mission’s most recent request was for 36 sweat suits for the Code Blue nights. That does not meet the Mission’s total need. But it is what they were asking a single church to do.
- Amy wrestles with the pastor's schedule and discusses the need, hoping it will not fall between the cracks of his busyness.
- Then the pastor puts it on the agenda for Sunday's service.
- This past Sunday, we laid out info sheets on the front of the stage and challenged everyone to sacrifice a little time, go to the store, buy a sweat suit, and return it to the church building that same day. The need was immediate.
- They did. The call was for 36 sweat suits. They brought back 78 plus other warm items.
- I delivered them to the City Mission. I could have had a volunteer do it, but I didn't want to be left out.
This is how it works! We have an impact when we work together!
Imagine, Joe Shmo from our church, is in line at the judgment day when this character behind him taps him on the shoulder and says... "Remember that day when you clothed me while I was out on the street freezing to death and as a result later gave my heart to Christ?"
Of course, Joe remembers nothing.
The man then says, "Maybe you remember going to Walmart after church one day and spending $20 on a red sweat suit and taking it back to the church building. Well, when the man at the City Mission gave me that sweat suit, my heart melted. Later that week, while trying to make it back to the City Mission on another cold night, I realized the sweat suit was saving my life. This time, at the Mission, I finally gave my heart to Christ. It was your love and simple sacrifice that made the difference."
My point here is that we are one unit working together. The effort is not just enacted by one part of the body, it is the whole body. We, the Body of Christ, Are the City Mission!
What we learned a few days ago is a powerful lesson.
Church people sitting in the pews are not necessarily hardhearted suburban dwellers unwilling to get involved. In fact, they are very motivated to make a difference. The key is connecting the dots, every part doing its share.
Taking the time to go to the store that day and return the item to the church facility was a sacrifice, but one that was doable.
So take off your load of guilt. Stop saying that you cannot have a personal impact, just because you seem so far removed. Figure out how to connect the dots of parts doing their share.
Then simply be a dot, and do your part.
Let's change the world together!