Over three years ago, Forever Fed served a man the first hot meal he’d had in 6 months at our very first Forever Fed event. One of his neighbors knew he was without utilities in his house so she grabbed him and brought him to our event. When he told me his story at that event I knew, without a doubt, that this is why God had us begin Forever Fed, a mobile food ministry. We sent only one meal home with him since he had no electricity to power a refrigerator and no way to safely store food. It seemed like a small thing at the time but for him it was the beginning of restoration.
Upon his gradual return to society over the next few years one Church made sure that the power to his home was restored. Soon after, The Nehemiah Project empowering youth from several Churches, restored some windows and the front porch on his home. He began utilizing the resources in his neighborhood and attended Celebrate Recovery meetings. He even began frequenting Church services and gained a church home and the love and concern and prayerful support of a pastor. So basically, this a man who was very depressed, isolated, and alone, without power or utilities in his home, slowly rejoined his community, became a participant in life, and gained many new friends. Hallelujah! Not only did we rejoice with him, we had a success story. Out of the 40 Forever Fed events we held at his Church location since our first meeting he’s been present at 35 of them, if not more. The coolest thing was I gained a valued friend. If it weren’t for Forever Fed, our paths would have never crossed.
And then he arrived at a crisis. He lost his home about six months ago. He was able to rent a room for a while but that ended when his money ran out. His years of barely surviving on his own rapidly spiraled downward into homelessness in a very short time. This is a classic example of how people in poverty are one step away from living on the street. In fact, most folks we serve are just like him. They don’t even have a vehicle to live in if they lose their shelter. In the non-profit world we label this demographic as pre-homeless and they are Forever Fed’s targeted audience. Our hope is to support pre-homeless families and individuals so when they do have a crisis they’ll be able to sustain their livelihood with a little extra food and clothing or other resources through our combined support networks.
For weeks, as my friend went from couch to couch within his community we took him the groceries our support network provided for us to give-every Friday. The groceries you donated flowed through Forever Fed and allowed him to contribute to the households in which he was staying. His ultimate fall into living on the street was mostly because those he stayed with were also struggling mightily to make ends meet. Even with the extra groceries they simply couldn’t sustain one more person in their crowded and unstable homes.
On Thursday December 12th he finally ran out of couches to sleep on. He called to tell me he was sitting on the steps of his church with his suitcase and his dog and had nowhere else to go.
I was at the food bank picking up supplies when he called. We prayed together on the phone for guidance, my voice quavered a bit and he quickly told me, “Susan please don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” When our conversation finished I was boo hooing like a baby in the food bank parking lot. Even though we all saw it coming, his arrival at the bottom was still a painful ordeal and everyone involved was heartbroken. At the time of that call I felt like we had all failed him.
But did we fail? In hindsight, we did not. The truth is, the community supported him to the best of our ability and we gave what we had trying to keep him sheltered and fed for 3 years. When you stand back and look at the big picture, there is a great beauty in that marriage of our communities and their resources. The Faith Community intersected with his immediate community and together we were and still are successful. Had we not intersected, he’d have been homeless years ago.
I’d like to point out, this isn’t a Susan or Bob thing, it’s an entire faith community thing. We were only one of many who have loved and supported this man over the years.
Is our job done? No. Our job transitioned into a different type of support. I’m sure you know- transitions are often painful. When he tapped out the resources in his immediate community it became the job of our expanded community to step in and help in new ways.
Amazingly, through the generosity of many others (and thanks to Facebook and text messages) we were able to round up some tents and heavy duty sleeping bags to keep him warm and safe. We’ve provided extra warm clothing, several hugs, warm food, and heartfelt encouragement. Not once in the last few days did anyone point out how he ended up where he is. Trust me, he already knows. We just loved him for who he was unconditionally. Most importantly, we were there when he crashed and we’ve done everything we could to set him up for success in his new situation. This is a win.
Last night was his first night sleeping alone outdoors. While my heart is heavy and I’m trying as hard as I can NOT to be angry that our county doesn’t have a single emergency shelter for people like him, I will not give up on this man nor will I abandon him as a lost cause. I can only imagine what his quiet evening alone in a tent with only his dog was like. Hours alone in a tent, no TV or radio to interrupt his thoughts, his first night living on the street and not knowing what the next hour would bring—it’s the perfect setting for a heart to heart conversation with your maker. Everyone’s pit looks different.
Why didn’t we just take him into our home until we could find housing for him? Trust me. Many people have traveled down that thought path repeatedly over the last 24 hours. Ultimately, we all arrived at the same conclusion. We didn’t bring him home because we know God has a purpose for his life. We didn’t bring him home because God works and molds hearts through our painful transitional experiences. We didn’t bring him home because when you rescue people from the consequences of their actions everyone loses and valuable lessons never get learned. We didn’t bring him home or buy him more hotel stays because none of those options were sustainable long term.
Our success lies in the fact that The Body of Christ’s network of support once again provided for his physical needs to survive. Not only that, they went above and beyond what was expected in loving their neighbor. One very busy businessman took time out of his day on Friday to assemble tents for shelter. Another caring person who knew we were worried stopped by and check on him last night after he left work and took him a flashlight and a prayer. I am always amazed when witnessing the Body of Christ coming together in a large way. I don’t know why it amazes me. I see it all the time.
Most of all, I know that the relationship we’ve fostered for the past three+ years with this man prompted him to call us when he was in a crisis. When his network of support was spent, our network kicked in with abundant blessings. YOU kicked in and shared YOUR abundant blessings with him. And guess what…if there had been a shelter available to him, he would have been “the shelter people’s problem” and there would be less opportunity for us to show our love. This is not a failure on anyone’s behalf, it’s a success any way you view it. Ironically, as Forever Fed continues to intersect with the lives of those in need, that degree of separation that allows us to “let someone else worry about that” is consistently removed. Loving your neighbors face to face means investing in their lives and loving them when they hit bottom.
It’s an awesome thing to see God’s plan for our combined communities to unfold before your very eyes. It was all due to the transition of one man’s arrival to homelessness.
This is what loving your neighbors looks and feels like. It’s wonderful, it’s painful, it’s time consuming, it glorifies God.
Watching the Body of Christ in action and witnessing the fruit of 3+ years of hard labor bringing communities together is perhaps the best Christmas present Bob and I have ever received. This is not a time to be sad it’s a time to rejoice. God wins again and we got to see it happen!