Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gathering Shalom Coordinator Brings Extra Touches to the Homeless this Christmas Season

This week, The Gathering had the pleasure of being a host church for SHALOM—a ministry that “Serves the Homeless with Alternative Lodging in Middletown.”  This year, our Gathering Shalom coordinator had a unique reason for wanting to serve.  Just one year ago, he was a Shalom guest himself.
         “I’ve been there,.” he said.  I know what these people are going through.” Roger Bush came to The Gathering one year ago, found a welcoming church and a place to grow in his faith.  Then ,he answered God’s call to “comfort in the way that he had been comforted” through the ministry of Shalom.

          Shalom is a multi-denominational coalition of 11 churches that was started in 2003 to respond to the growing homelessness in Middletown.  Beginning in November through March, each church provides shelter, hot meals, and transportation for the homeless. The homeless stay one week at each church and then rotate to another church in the network.  While staying at the host church, the guests receive two hot meals a day, a bed and bedding, laundry facilities, and the fellowship of church members who visit in the evening— with gifts, games, and conversation.  “We want to make it a home-like atmosphere for people who feel very isolated and alone during the winter months.” Said one of the volunteers.  This week, The Gathering provided space for 5 women, 9 men and 2 children.

          While I have been a part of this ministry for 11 years and have watched hundreds of servants give of themselves, I was struck last night by the extra touches that Roger brought to the people of Shalom—extra touches that help them to see themselves as Christ sees them:   loved, valued, and accepted.

Extra touch #1   Every Shalom guest was given their own cup with their name on it for the week. When you have very little or nothing at all to call your own, these little possessions mean a lot.

Extra touch #2   Every guest was assigned cleaning duty for one day of the week.  I have never seen the church so spotless!  Every person staying in Shalom knew that they played an important part in giving back to the church that served their needs.

Extra Touch #3  Every night, even though it was cold outside, the fire pit was filled with donated kindling and a campfire was started in the back parking lot for roasting marshmallows and s’mores—an extra touch of childhood memories to warm lonely hearts.

Extra Touch #4  Padded mats were arranged on the floor so that everyone slept with carpeting underneath them.  "It will keep people warmer tonight", said Roger.  “There’s nothing like sleeping on a cold tile floor.”

Extra touch #5  Salad was served at most every meal—a rare delicacy for people who have little access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Every morning, a bowl of fresh fruit was placed on the table before they left for the day.  “You’ve gotta eat your fruits and veggies to stay healthy!”, said Roger to each person on the way out.

         Tonight, the guests will be arriving at about 5:30 and Roger will be ready.  He will be organizing the servants in the kitchen, putting out more beds for the newcomers, and more than likely, looking for the next “extra touch” that will bless a homeless person’s heart this Christmas season.

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