Lessons from the Street
On a chilly Thursday night in November, FUMC Houston Senior Pastor Dr. Steve Wende traded the comforts of home for a cardboard box. He joined FUMC Missions Chair Kurt Nondorj (Covenant House board member) and more than two dozen businessmen and women from across the region to sleep on the streets to raise awareness for the Covenant House ministry to homeless youth. Each "sleeper" was asked to raise $5000 for Covenant House for the sleep-out.
Very few “sleepers” actually enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Says Pastor Wende, “We all learned some things. For example, if you have a cardboard box you don’t sleep in it. It won’t really stop the elements. You sleep on it to provide a bit of cushion against the ground.” He also learned how to identify teens in trouble versus those just hanging around on the street. “Those in trouble have no jewelry or decent shoes; they sell those first to try to make ends meet,” he notes.
During the night, the “sleepers” also built some connections. “Our church is very involved in ministry to the homeless, and this night on the streets gave us a chance to get to know others doing wonderful things in this area of great need. It was encouraging. Perhaps the most uplifting aspect to the experience was meeting a number of young adults who were formerly on the streets, and are now on their way to a worthy and beautiful life.”
“Most of all, it was humbling,” he says. “Through the evening I was putting posts on Facebook, and people all over were responding to me. I was stunned by the number of people, from our church or from other churches in the city, who revealed that they had spent time on the streets as young adults. Back then their lives hung by a thread, but now, they are leaders in the community."
Pastor Wende discovered by talking to others that night what often changed the homeless person’s situation was Christians reaching out to them in sacrificial ways to provide them a second chance in the power and love of God. Through this outdoor experience, he was reminded that, “Those of us with food and shelter, good clothes and transportation are not nearly as different from those on the streets as we often think. Sometimes, just one bad decision can be all it takes to change a life dramatically. Christ does not want that to be the end of the story, so we can bless many by sharing those words of encouragement.”
Become An Advocate for the Vulnerable
“The Center for Missional Excellence within the Texas Annual Conference applauds our churches and members for bringing awareness, love and solutions to the population dealing with these struggles,” says Center Director Diane McGehee. “We will continue to be advocates for victims of homelessness, human trafficking and immigration challenges at the local level throughout 2013.”
First Methodist demonstrates its commitment to the homeless in downtown Houston through a ministry called "Lifeline" that serves 50-80 people each day. Members give participants one-on-one attention by listening and praying for them. Notes Kurt, “Many people just need to know that they are not forgotten and invisible.” Lifeline guests are also offered a sack lunch, toiletries, clean t-shirts and referrals to next step agencies in the downtown area.
First Methodist members support Lifeline year-round with volunteers, financial support and in-kind donations. Additionally, the church hosts a party for the homeless each spring on the church lot, serving over 500 homeless men and women with music, food, games, prayer ministry and fellowship with church members.
Kurt is proud of his church for taking an active role in ministering to the homeless, and glad to see his pastor leading by example. “Everyone who slept outside came away with a different and better understanding of the need and the work that Covenant House is doing in Houston. I was able to visit with many homeless youth and hear stories of courage and achievement against very long odds. In addition to those that slept outside, it was also overwhelming to know many gave sacrificially to raise over $200,000 to be used in this critical ministry.”