Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Sign

In our ongoing desire to be a presence in the local neighborhood we decided to invite the community to our Easter services. About a block from our church, right by the Briley parkway ramps, is a large electronic billboard. We decided we could put our ad up there for the days before Easter. We signed on for Wednesday through Saturday but they started running our ad on Monday morning. It runs for ten seconds and there are two other ads that run for ten seconds each, so our ad comes on every twenty seconds and even if you don't see it the first time, it will be back on soon.

Speaking of signs, we also wrote our large lawn sign for our Easter egg hunt in Spanish as well as English. We have learned that a large portion of our neighborhood is Hispanic and we want to try and reach out to them.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stories from "Room in the Inn"

"Room in the Inn" is a program here in Nashville for the homeless. It runs from November to March and it gives homeless people an opportunity to sleep in churches during the winter months when it is the coldest. Each church who signs up takes one night during the week that they send their church van downtown to the center for human resources to pick up men, women, or a combination of both. You can tell them how many your church can handle.

When they get to your church you feed them a meal, they may watch TV, and then they sleep on cots, or mattresses on the floor. They get up very early in the morning and are fed breakfast and then they receive a sack lunch for the day. They are supposed to be back at the center by 6:30 am. Some of the men have jobs and many of them are doing classes and such at the center. Many churches, like ours, have pre-school programs and the programs are very strict about not having strangers around the children so that is another reason for taking them back so early.

Our church takes six men every Wednesday night. They come for our Wednesday night meal and join in our study that we are doing afterward. It is pretty informal, just sitting around the tables and most of them seem to enjoy it and participate with us. Then they go upstairs when choir practice is starting. They watch TV, a movie, or many of them just want to go to sleep. We do not have showers at our church but many of the other churches do. We provide clean towels and washcloths, toothbrushes and toothpaste so they can clean up. Two of the men from our church stay with them for the night. This takes a lot of volunteers, van drivers, inn keepers, people to do laundry, people to set up the beds and take them down, cooks for Wednesday night, someone to bring breakfast and someone to bring lunches. We also have "undie Sundays" where we collect new underwear, undershirts, gloves, and socks to give the men and we keep some used clothing, sweatshirts, coats, and jackets in one of the rooms.

Back in November when the men first started coming there was one man named John who came for the first few weeks. Skip knew him from another year when Arlington had done Room in the Inn. Mike and I sat with him one evening and he was talking about his days in the army when he was a helicopter pilot. He said when he was in Korea, he only flew injured men to the hospitals but in Viet Nam he went on missions. He said the highlight of his military career was when he flew President Johnson's wife and girls if they needed to go somewhere in a helicopter. He was disappointed that he never got to fly the president though. He came for a few weeks and then he didn't come for two weeks. When he came back he said he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had started taking Chemo on Monday. I felt so bad for him but he said that he'd had a good life and when your time was up, it was up. He never came back. I hope he had someone taking care of him when he was so ill.

In order to go out to one of the churches you have to get a ticket from the center. They give them out in the morning. You can not receive a ticket if you are drinking, doing drugs, argumentative, or belligerent. Some nights there are fewer churches taking men in and some nights there are more churches, so sometimes it is hard to get a ticket. One night a man came in and he was so hungry, he said he had a ticket for the night before but a woman had just gotten out of the hospital so he let her have his ticket and slept outside. He said that she needed it more than he did. I guess I had never thought about what happens to someone who is homeless if they have to have surgery or spend time in a hospital. But they are just as weak as you or I would be.

One of the men had been a worship leader at his church and when he talked about passionate worship it sounded like something I would like to participate in. It was so obvious that he loved the Lord and that all of us should let Him know that we loved Him, also.

There was this one guy who was from Montana. He was kind of quiet to begin with until he said he was from Montana. Well, Mike is from Montana so they spent the meal talking about different towns in Montana and hit it off quite well. When he went to leave he reached into his pocket and took out a small petit point cross and gave it to Mike. He said he always carried it in his pocket and asked Mike to keep it in his pocket. Even with so little he still wanted to give. It is so beautiful. This was truly extravagant generosity.

During our Bible studies the men often added insight that was spoken from the heart. Many had been taught in churches wherever they were from. It was obvious that they spent time thinking about God and pondering His plan for their lives. Some of these men are homeless by choice. Some just by bad fortune. Many of them have served their country in the military. It is not easy for them and they are grateful for the food given to them and a safe warm place to sleep at night.