H.O.P.E. for the Homeless
By Carl Stagner
Matthew 25:40 emphasizes an important responsibility for the Christian: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (NIV2011). It is our duty to love our neighbors, including our neighbors who live on the street. In October, H.O.P.E. was realized in First Church of God in Houston, Texas. H.O.P.E.—Helping Ordinary People Extraordinarily—seeks to minister to the specific needs of the homeless in Houston.
It has long been central to the mission of First Church of God to truly be a neighborhood church. A benevolence committee and a food pantry have met certain needs for several years, but a new passion for the homeless was stirring in the hearts of the Compassion Ministry team at First Church.
The appropriate stewardship of the congregation’s facilities is very important to the First Church. “Mid-America Christian University, formerly Gulf Coast Bible College, was born out of this congregation,” John Miller, executive pastor and pastor of Christian education, explains. “So we’ve ministered to the community through education before, but now we wanted to make our facility available to the neediest around us. It seemed to make sense to us that with so many homeless in the area, we should meet their needs, too.”
With counsel from homeless ministry veterans and donations from local bakeries, the ministry was off and running. Every Thursday, the ministry provides the homeless with a safe, warm (or cool, in the warm months) environment. Volunteers from the congregation attend just to be friends with the homeless individuals and play board games with them. The church also offers community resources that many homeless simply don’t know about and, therefore, do not utilize. The church provides a hot meal. For those who need their hair cut, or their beard trimmed, First Church will take care of it—on site. They’ve got showers too. And when a homeless individual schedules a job interview, he is fitted with appropriate clothes and occasionally offered a hotel stay.
One of the hurdles in working with the homeless is that many exhibit a distrust of aid that is offered. H.O.P.E. has learned to develop credibility with the needy and now regularly ministers to as many as twenty-five individuals.
Some of the needy who have come to H.O.P.E. for assistance have already gone on to get jobs and homes. Between eight and twelve now attend worship on Sundays. Faith commitments have been reported, and on Christmas day, one individual from H.O.P.E. was baptized! Another individual recently said, “I’ve been in Houston since in 1980, and I’ve never felt as loved by a church as I do now!” And individuals in the congregation who hadn’t yet found a niche, now volunteer for the homeless ministry.
First Church of God has recently adopted Bane Elementary School, a nearby institution with a whopping 93 percent poverty level. When H.O.P.E. held its Christmas dinner for the homeless, they also invited the school families to join them. As H.O.P.E. continues to develop, more and more opportunities to minister to the school will be sought.
“We’re doorstops,” Miller explains. “We can either hold a door closed, or open it for God’s blessing. We gently love them in the Lord, all the while giving them opportunity to learn of Christ.”
This story is an example of Strategic Value Two: Permeate! Engaging every individual, church, and agency in the Great Commandments (Matt 22:37–39).