Church Overcomes Assumptions about Homelessness
What began as a small Thanksgiving dinner in 2014 has grown into a weekly ministry in South Florida, offering hospitality each Saturday to 75 to 100 persons without homes. Just as often, it ministers to the volunteers who find that their own lives have changed as a result.
That first dinner didn’t serve many guests, but Richard Hasselbach says it was fruitful for him as the new pastor of Christ Community Church (RCA) in Pompano Beach. He had wanted a ministry that would address ongoing needs, not just offer an annual meal, and at that dinner, he learned about HOPE South Florida, a Christian nonprofit that partners with more than 50 churches to provide transitional housing, meals, showers, and clothing for people in Broward County. In early 2015, Christ Community became a partner church. It offers its fellowship room for a meal and opens up its clothing closet on Saturdays, while another local church serves as a food bank. HOPE South Florida provides transportation to the meal site as well as a mobile shower unit that serves 30 to 40 people at each stop.
In addition to a faithful group from Christ Community, volunteers show up every other week from a nearby church, Calvary Chapel Plantation. Other occasional volunteers include Boy Scouts, Chick-fil-A employees, and even a group of friends from the next town over.
When guests arrive, coffee and snacks are waiting just to take the edge off hunger. While the meal is prepared, they can shower and dress in fresh clothing from the clothing closet. Just before the meal, guests may participate in a devotion and share prayer requests. Instead of funneling guests through a food line, volunteers serve the meal to them at the tables, offering hospitality and respect as much as service.
“We nourish their spirits as well as [their] bodies—that’s the most important. It’s not just food. Homelessness as an abstraction doesn’t exist,” says Hasselbach. “Each person has a story, and some have great faith. … Many are good people in a bad situation. Once you’ve prayed with them, and for them, and sometimes are blessed to hear their stories, it changes you. You realize that when you welcome them, you are welcoming Christ.”
As they get to know their guests, the volunteers have started to overcome their assumptions about homelessness. And providing a meal and clothing is just the beginning of what Hasselbach hopes to see among his 70 congregants.
“It’s easy to welcome our homeless guests to a meal, but harder to say, ‘Why don’t you come to church on Sunday, too?’” he says. “But where you put prayer, evangelism, service, and worship together, you have a picture of what a well-functioning church should look like.”
A ministry like this takes trust; Christ Community is not always sure where the funds for food will come from. But Hasselbach isn’t worried.
“If we can do this, any church can do it. We’re small and poor, and if you are too and think you can’t make a difference, you’re wrong,” says Hasselbach. “The most important thing we did was get out of our silo and find partners who shared our vision and had the same heart for the poor. We’re taking down the walls that separate us and [we’re] working together, and so can you.”
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