The last few weeks have reminded me how much I enjoy being a ‘practitioner’. For 10 plus years I taught evangelism. One of the keys I taught was getting to know the local context and finding natural connections to the Good News. When we were starting Up Town (the precursor to Street Hope) I identified laundry services as an opportunity and so began “Stone Washed” as a means of befriending, evangelizing and discipling folks in our neighbourhood. People have asked me how this idea came about and I can only say “It is God!” That was several years ago and I have been seeking God for new ways to identify opportunities presented by our local context. This year we arrived at another project that seemed to fit. Many of our friends do not fit the strict description as ‘homeless’ but you would be hard pressed to describe the rooms, in which they live, as homes. Most live in rooming houses, some in glorified walk in closets. These rooms usually have heat and lights included, because of the practical difficulty of metering each room. Though the heat is provided, most of that heat comes in the summer rather than the winter. As I was reading about Jesus incarnation the words “swaddling clothes” pop out at me. I was inspired! While Jesus was wrapped in rags we could do so much better in the 21st Century. We could swaddle our friends in electric blankets. Venus did some comparative shopping for me and found where we could get 100 electric blankets at a good price. But where were we going to get the money? I visited a number of local churches and wrote letters and shared this vision online. Then on faith bought the blankets, trusting and hoping we would be able to cover the costs. This was, by far, our biggest effort and it stretched our faith, but…
We received more than enough to sponsor each blanket!
Christmas morning arrived with a fresh dump of snow on top of the sheets of ice that covered the ground. I got several calls asking if we were still going on with the breakfast. I arrived at eight to let a crew of women in kitchen. These women, their husbands and children left homes where they had been without power for the previous 48 hours. They served with joy!
I didn’t know how the weather would affect our numbers but we prayed and went ahead. The numbers were a bit less than the previous year but happiness and the aroma of bacon filled the hall. I read the Christmas Story from Luke and we watched a video of “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kathy Mattea. We gave thanks for Jesus and the food and ate our fill (and then some). We said we had gifts for folks as they left. A group of teenagers gave out the blankets to a surprised and grateful group of guests. I lost track of the number of times people said “thank you” (this is not always common) and heard tales of how cold nights had been. As this delightful crew cleaned up and prepared to go back to their cold homes they thanked me! This was awkward because I knew I should be thanking them but they insisted that this opportunity had ‘made their Christmas’. They left with promises of returning next year.
The next day I got to take some to a couple of guys at the half-way house who were unable to join us. I got talking to a fellow there I had not yet met and he shared how cold his room had been that night. He said this even before he knew I was there delivering blankets. I asked him to wait a few minutes while I ran up to the church and got him one.
I still have a handful of blankets to give but I know I will be able to find good homes for them in the next few days.
Thank you to all who prayed and sponsored blankets! They provided a great way to contextualize the Good News for the folks in our community. We now need to start seeking ways to continue doing just that again, and again.