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It’s Not Every Day
This past fall, we had the idea to a unique awareness and fundraising campaign that highlighted the shelter situation of so many of our homeless and near-homeless brothers and sisters in Danville. We started by pitching two tents on the front lawn of one of our partner congregations: Ascension Lutheran Church. To this, we added signs around the tents that shared some statistics about the prevalence and reality of homelessness in our city and region. Then, we put out a sign with a phone number for people to call if they’d like to participate in the second part of the campaign.
You see, we invited people to make a donation to Third Chance Ministries in order to move the tents and signs to somebody else’s lawn for a day or so. Once it landed on your lawn, you could let it stay for a few days, or you could make a donation of your own and move it somebody else’s lawn. Of course, we wanted to do all this with a gracious spirit so, if you really didn’t want it on your lawn, we’d be glad to move it free of charge (but nobody was upset by our tents and signs, thankfully). We hoped that the sight of these tents popping up all around town and on the lawns of various congregations would inspire people to think about all the places where the homeless were that they couldn’t see as easily as our tents and signs. The stark reality is that most of our homeless brothers and sisters would love to have a tent like the ones we borrowed when they are forced to sleep outside—no matter how nice the weather.
We expected that people would enjoy the tents and that it would encourage good conversation, but what we didn’t expect was what happened that first day. Fifteen minutes after the tents went up, I received a phone call from the pastor at Ascension, Meredith, letting us know that she had figured out one of the unanticipated outcomes of our tents: somebody had moved into one of the tents.
It’s not every day that somebody moves into your object lesson.
Matt (another Grace and Main leader) and I went over immediately to connect with the gentleman who had moved into one of the tents and to see what his story was. Matt, Meredith, and I met with Bill in Ascension’s library while Meredith’s children put together a care package from supplies they found in the kitchen and the nearby candy bowl. Bill told us how the night before had been the first night he had ever been forced to sleep outside. He had been run out of his shelter by a vengeful landlord, who had refused to offer a lease to Bill at the beginning of their arrangement. The sad truth is that many of our brothers and sisters on the hard side of the financial ball often have little leverage when it comes to negotiating secure shelter and are forced into untenable situations.
We listened as Bill shared about finding an abandoned house at nearly 2:00 a.m. and taking emergency shelter when he found the back door ajar and had confirmed that not only was nobody there but that the power and water had been turned off—he desperately didn’t want to disturb anybody or trespass on somebody’s property, but winter was already creeping into our city and he knew he shouldn’t be outside all night. He had been terrified at every noise and desperate for warmth and food, so he set out as the sun rose and began looking for help and shelter without his identification, since his landlord would not return his meager possessions since turning him out into the night.
We let him know that sleeping in those tents was more likely to draw unwanted and negative attention, plus it wouldn’t be warm or safe for him. We reassured him that we wouldn’t let him sleep outside or in an abandoned house that night. We made some phone calls and found a way to provide him with secure and stable shelter for several weeks while he got his feet back underneath him. Your donations, and the donations of others, made it possible to meet Bill where he was and invite him to participate in the Kingdom of God for a little while. After all, that’s what happened that day that Bill moved into our tents—we had another opportunity to model a different way of living and a different way of caring for those whom God loves so dearly.
It’s not every day that somebody moves into your object lesson, but the Kingdom of God can show up any day in an unexpected place, bearing grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. We want to be around when that happens!