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Ministry Story – Vignettes From The Shelter, The Second Baptist Church Of Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Transformed by the Spirit – Ministry Story Opportunity
Christmas and New Year’s tradition at The Second Baptist Church of Germantown is to provide a safe and comfortable home-like shelter for families in the throes of homelessness. Jesus’ parents were essentially homeless when he was born, so what better thing for our church to do at Christmas time than to provide sanctuary for homeless families who need a place to stay. As we house and work with the families, we are constantly reminded of how God transforms our own lives and spirits through our interactions with them. This series of vignettes provide a glimpse into the lives of families housed in The Second Baptist Church of Germantown shelter and the church members who serve in this ministry.
“Does Santa Know Where I Am?” “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7
It was the Advent season, a period of expectancy, and only three weeks before Christmas when the family came to the shelter at Second Baptist. At dinner that first night, an anxious 9-year old asked: “Does Santa know where I am?” Her mother, who was sitting next to her was quite surprised by the question, turned and gave her a big, long hug and assured her by saying: “Of course he does and so does all his helpers too.” The love of God shone brightly as the mother spoke and as a smile came to the child’s face. Needless to say, that 10 year old had the very blessed Christmas she expected singing carols and exchanging gifts… and Santa stopped by too!
She Looks Different “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works…Ephesians 2:10
My 6 year old twin daughters and I served as overnight hosts for our guest families. This was a special time that I am sure both my daughters and I will always remember: having a “sleep over” at our church and meeting new people, especially Pat, the mother of three little boys. Pat looks visibly different from most people, her face, arms and hands are badly disfigured and scarred because she had been critically burned in a house fire when she was a child. Pat could see that my daughters were wide-eyed with curiosity when they introduced themselves to her. She readily explained to them why she looks the way she does, and how it affected her. While my daughters are too young to understand how rare Pat’s willingness to talk about her history with first graders is, they learned that most often, the person who really learns and grows the most is the helper! That is a lesson that is good for every age!
New Year’s Eve “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…Philippians 4:11
I wondered if our guests would display sadness because they were bringing in the new year in a church shelter. To my surprise, the first person to arrive to the dining area was an energetic, happy, playful 10 year old. She came with a smile, an uplifted spirit and a fancy bottle of apple cider. “Happy New Year,” she said with excitement and cheerfulness. She told me the apple cider was from her mom. I was touched that despite their current housing circumstances, she and her mother did not let it cast a shadow on their day. They were determined to celebrate and be thankful. They were thermostats and not thermometers. They transformed their atmosphere and their situation opposed to letting their situation transform them. I left feeling peaceful and ready for a great New Year!
The Easter Sunday Baptisms
Their lives could not have been more different but they were transformed by the spirit, baptized within minutes of each other, and forever bonded together by God’s compassion and love.
He came to the shelter as a shy 16 year old who easily smiled. After supper each day he played the piano. The absence of lessons and piano scores was not an issue. He would teach himself. Whatever song he “picked out” on the piano keys was music to his mother’s ears and she applauded him. His “church mother” encouraged him to join the church musicians at rehearsal and introduced him to the group. They made a place for him. He made friends. He came to the Youth Group. He came to worship service regularly. He joined the church. At his baptism, he smiled shyly and widely. The pastor fought back tears. His church mother said “Amen.” And all his church family rejoiced. He came to the church as a middle age man. He attended worship services for several years, with his wife, rarely missing a Sunday. He loved to sing and praise God. He participated in church ministries. He helped the elderly. He served with the Men’s Fellowship. He provided generous gifts to the homeless children in the church shelter making sure that each child received a gift at Christmas. He joined the church. At his baptism, he was solemn. The pastor beamed. His church family was joyous and afterwards there were many hugs. Everyone was transformed by the spirit.
The Birthday and the New Home
Living in a shelter even though it may be safe and comfortable can be a tough experience. Relationships between strangers brought together by homelessness can be loving or strained. It had been almost a year since the husband, wife and two children moved into the shelter program. Both had jobs but were challenged by making livable wages, debts, and strained relationships in the shelters. As the daughter’s 3rd birthday approached, the mother was conflicted over how to celebrate. And, after a troubled interaction the day before, she asked that there not be a party or any singing of “Happy Birthday.” Concerned about this the dinner preparer/host prayerfully complied but did not change the menu which included a special meal and a cake.
The 3rd birthday was a long and exciting day for the little girl. Upon entering the dining room, the birthday girl was excitedly greeted with hugs and shouts and singing of “Happy Birthday” by her little friends (2 and 4 years old). It was an adorable moment. Her mother smiled and exhaled. The love that filled the room was contagious. It was a transformative moment for the mother and the dinner host. The homemade chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and broccoli was just what the birthday girl wanted and she ate so much we thought she would burst.
The birthday cake was cupcakes arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. The birthday girl selected the yellow “star” cupcake and beamed as “Happy Birthday” was sung. She enjoyed the cupcake so much her little face was full of icing and crumbs. Her mother smiled with delight seeing her so happy. The birthday girl smiled from ear to ear and her little eyes twinkled!
Earlier in the day, a member contacted the hosts and asked if a family could use a size 3T coat. With our yes, she said she would drop it off in the evening. As it turned out, she dropped the coat off as the birthday celebration was occurring. We asked the birthday girl’s mother if she could use the coat and she said yes. The new coat was folded in a plastic bag and we could only see that it was black. When we pulled the coat from the bag, we found a little girl’s coat with pink and white stripes. And, to our amazement it was a perfect fit for the birthday girl. We know that only our awesome God could have arranged for this perfect gift and the perfect timing that it was received. Not only was it a special day for the birthday girl, it was a joyous day for her mom and dad because they were notified that day that they accomplished their goal of getting approval for and finding permanent housing. The mother said it was an especially hard year for the family and praised God for the blessings they received on the journey. They moved out of the Second Baptist shelter on December 31st and woke up for the first time in their new home on New Year’s Day!
“This one family’s success was a promise that everyone would find a way to “graduate” from the shelter program. The success of the ministry visible before us!”
“In working with the families, one could not help notice the hope for a better life, the faith they had that they would get a permanent home, their continuous expressions of gratitude, and the joy in their hearts as they journeyed through this difficult life experience.”
The Transformation And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…Romans 8:28
“Thank you so much for reaching out, I’ve been so overwhelmed with things finally coming together.” I have a new job and a house for my boys. “We are all very happy. We love our house, it’s beautiful. I do feel so peaceful. And that everything is working together and for our good. It was tough, and sometimes I feel a little guilty that my faith was shaky always knowing that God had always worked things out, and now seeing how things resulted from that difficult time in my life, but I’m so grateful for going through. We will be visiting. Thanks for all of the love.”
It is truly a blessing for The Second Baptist Church of Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to provide a shelter to homeless families in partnership with the Philadelphia Interfaith Housing Network. We are truly transformed by the spirit.