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My last day on the staff of First Baptist Church in Danville was a hot one. Temperatures broke that uncomfortable 100 degree barrier where the thoughts of men and women alike turn to lemonade, shade, and air conditioning. The air conditioning at FBC Danville never worked especially well in my office because of the multiple sun-facing windows with which I was blessed. However, the cost of all that natural light was, at times, unnatural heat. As I packed the last of my books and belongings into my car to shuttle back to the house, my thoughts turned to our homeless brothers and sisters downtown who would seek shelter wherever they could find it and covet shade quite unlike anybody else plagued by heat that day. I knew we were providing water and food that day to some of our beloved downtown but I was at a loss for what we could do in the face of such a big problem. Seeing no solutions and already planning to leave town the next day for the wedding of a dear friend in central Kentucky, I resigned myself to doing what little I could and maybe preparing some extra coolers of ice water for our “roving feast” teams who were going out the next day.
The next morning I was awoken by the buzz of my cell phone against the nightstand where it spends every night charging for a day full of phone calls, emails, text messages, and relationship-building. I noticed the time and that it was the offices of FBC Danville calling and had a momentary shock thinking I had overslept and not showed up for work. After realizing that I no longer had an office to be late to and was, in fact, traveling out of town later that day to celebrate with friends, I must admit I was confused as to why I was getting a call—maybe somebody forgot something? Within moments of answering, I realized that one of our dear brothers on staff at FBC had the simple, but beautiful idea, to open up the church building during the day to provide shelter from the stifling heat.
After many phone calls and some short conversation, a plan was developing to staff the church’s fellowship hall with volunteers from among FBC’s membership who would share refreshments and air conditioning with those for whom the heat can turn deadly frighteningly quick. Grace and Main folks, including those going out on the “roving feast,” would communicate the shelter options through word of mouth and through our existing network of relationships. It was a gorgeously simple idea, but it was going to take a week or so to pull it off and that meant several days of 100+ degree temperatures while we put this beautiful mission into place.
So, as FBC Danville (who is one of Grace and Main’s partners in ministry and one of the blessed congregations who provide support to me and Jessica as missionaries) put the first steps of its own plan into place, Grace and Main began putting a plan in place for the gap. After calling some of our other leaders, we had a team of volunteers who turned our home into emergency shelter while I was in Lexington, Kentucky, officiating the wedding of our dear friends and supporters. Lemonade, shade, and air conditioning were the rules of the day as brothers and sisters from downtown gathered on the porch and in the chapel to give thanks for an escape from the heat.
This is the kind of work that is done when non-traditional and flexible communities like Grace and Main Fellowship partner with more traditional and historical congregations like First Baptist Church of Danville. It turns my thoughts, and hopefully yours as well, to what else our local congregations could do if they thought of their buildings and resources as gifts given them to by God for the advancement of the Kingdom and not solely for their own comfort and security. Imagine what would happen if the congregations around you agreed that homelessness in a city full of churches wasn’t acceptable. What would it be like for churches to be known as places of safety and sanctuary, places of refuge?
I received a number of phone calls while I was away from folks asking if we knew that there were people coming in and out of our house while we were away. All who called did so because they care deeply for us and, in addition to being our supporters, wanted to make sure that our home downtown was safe while we were gone. But, each of these phone calls gave me the incredible opportunity to respond with the truth that simultaneously warmed and broke my heart every time I uttered it, “Yes, I know they’re there. Those people are my dear friends and that home is theirs too, until they have a home of their own.”
Thank you God for the resources to love and care for and among those whom you have called beloved. Thank you for congregations, partners, and supporters who yearn for the day that we can speak of homelessness as a once vexing problem, no longer distressing. Thank you God especially for congregations and communities of Christians who lean out into uncertain places with big hearts and hopeful confidence in the God who is “our refuge and strength, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy.” Amen.