Matt Lewis has worked with the guests at the Men’s Shelter a little more than a year – first as a resident advisor and now as day desk supervisor. His passion to share God’s love with people who are broken and hopeless is evident in every way, including his answers to our questions about his area of UGM's ministry.
Editor’s note: We decided to switch up our usual Q+A format by putting Matt’s last answer first. We believe his heart shines brightest there and helps explain his passion both for his ministry at UGM and in the whole of his life.
What would you like to share that we didn’t ask about?
I am a very aggressively passionate individual, and many times people (and even I myself) want to know where my intensity comes from. I believe deeply that we as people have all been and are all being sought after, pursued and loved fiercely by a good God. And I believe that God uses the weak and foolish appearing things in this world to highlight His glory. I want to live out this truth with every ounce of my being.
I love being with people who appear on the outside to not have much to offer to others in a material or worldly sense, or who appear dangerous or who appear to be more broken on the outside, because I love a good story. God has brought me from a place where I believed I did not really belong anywhere or to anyone and has given me a valued place to belong with Him in His Kingdom. I want to be amongst people who need that hope so that I can keep experiencing it. I want to be in the grit, in the trenches, in the dark places where hope and light shine the brightest in contrast, and I want to be reminded every day that I walk by faith because of God’s grace.
Being with those who are poor in a worldly sense, who struggle outright with addictions and who are often down and out in the sense of worldly luck, points me to the hope and power found in the God of the universe who loves us and heals us in Jesus. I love seeing Jesus on the move in fierce compassion, so I love being wherever my heart finds that.
What’s your career and educational background? How did that lead you to work at Union Gospel Mission?
I don’t truly consider myself to have a “career.” I have worked a variety of jobs throughout my life (over 20). My passion since volunteering at something called the “Sack Dinner” back in 2007 has been for working with people experiencing homelessness, social rejection and who live with apparent hurt and brokenness. I have gravitated in my adult life toward pastoral work, preaching, and volunteer opportunities which allow me to build relationships with individuals who are deeply hurting, mentally ill or considered dangerous.
My educational background is in Pastoral Ministry and Biblical Theology, the double majors I received from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon, where I received my Bachelor’s Degree. I was led to work at the Union Gospel Mission by the Holy Spirit, who used the combination of my passion for building friendships with those the Mission serves, and some severe hardships I experienced in my personal life such as a divorce, losing two jobs unexpectedly and having my life turned upside down, essentially.
I worked first for the House of Charity for 15 months, mainly in their Respite Program and then through some unexpected changes at my job there and through the positive relationships of some people in my church body, I decided to make the transition over to the Union Gospel Mission.
Describe briefly your areas of responsibility and what your day-to-day job looks like.
I am currently the Day Desk Supervisor, and my responsibilities include overseeing the Day Room where the majority of our guests reside during the day. I supervise the men who work at the Day Desk (where the Mission does intakes for new guests and provides a number of services for the men staying here and for the public during our open hours). I run security for the Men’s Shelter and Administrative Offices at the Trent location and support Guest Service Manager Dan McLellan with maintaining the work assignments for the men staying here. I also monitor and run our clothing room.
My day-to-day job can fluctuate quite a bit. I come into the Mission at 6 a.m. and am here until around 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Some days I may spend quite a bit of time helping walk guests through conflict resolution (in their relationships with each other or within themselves as individuals). Some days I may be involved in a number of security-oriented situations where I am attempting to talk down or even escort off the property people who have become agitated or even violent. Some days I have the opportunity to share the message of Gospel with people who choose to leave trusting themselves behind and decide to place their trust in Jesus.
Some days I spend a lot of time typing up notes from behind a computer, and some days I spend a lot of time in meetings with other staff members, collaborating in order to seek out how to serve the people we get to love and care for better.
Overall, most days I am building relationships with people, listening to stories of their lives; training our guests in how to work in their various departments; running security rounds; managing work schedules; enforcing the rules and policies of the Mission when people decide not to adhere to them; putting out “fires” and answering lots and lots of questions.
What are your favorite job duties, moments or events that give you joy in your work?
My favorite job duty is listening for where people are looking for hope and pointing them to the hope found in Jesus and His love for them. I also like training the men on the desk in how to do their work with skill and how to pursue loving Jesus and others through it, de-escalating, navigating and managing difficult and dangerous security situations, and participating in healthy conflict resolution.
A major moment that gave me a lot of satisfaction and joy in my work here was when I got to share the Gospel with a man working at the Day Desk during a work evaluation. He and I were in the middle of going through a PADMAN evaluation (a tool we use for evaluating work performance and work readiness). As I was listening to him speak, I could hear the cravings for hope, purpose and affirmation in his words, and I got to pray with him in the middle of our evaluation as the Holy Spirit led him out of the hopeless kingdom of darkness and into the glorious Kingdom of life!
What about your job might surprise people unfamiliar with UGM?
I think it might surprise people that I spend a good chunk of my time asking questions of people in order to seek out their real needs. Many people come through our doors at UGM asking (or demanding) for the Mission to meet their basic perceived needs on their terms. But many times they don’t even realize what they really need at a deeper level.
I am passionate about seeing people’s dignity, worth and value affirmed and lived out, so I spend a lot of my time asking questions toward that end and attempting to speak and live that out to others as best I can.
What impact have you seen in people when their basic needs of food, shelter, and safety are met?
Frequently, when a person begins to feel safe, a little bit secure and like their basic needs for food, shelter and safety are going to be provided for, who they really are on the inside (the good and the bad) begins to come out more and more. This provides ample opportunity to build deeper relationships with people and help them develop holistically as human beings.
What other needs do you see on a daily basis?
I see all kinds. I see the need for respect, for value, for worth, for dignity, for purpose, for hope. I see the need to be understood, to be listened to, to feel seen by God and others, the need to matter to others and to oneself, the need for greater self-awareness and the need to deeply know one is loved.
Can you share a story of when your interaction with a guest led to an unexpected result (a “God moment”)?
I used to work during the evenings from 2 PM-10:30 PM, and I would often get to meet new guests as they came to check in for the night. If a guest comes to check in after 7 p.m., we have already finished dinner for the evening, so I would often get a new guest a pre-made meal from the fridge in our kitchen. Our Culinary Department does a wonderful job of preparing every day so that we always have meals on hand to give to people in need.
On many occasions I would have the chance to sit down for a few minutes and listen to a little bit of a man’s story as he would sit in the dining hall with just me and eat some food. On one particular evening, I was listening to a young man’s story about coming off of heroin and about the brokenness he was experiencing in his relationships with his dad and mom as a result of the way he and they were coping with the pain in their lives.
I was able to probe and get him to look at the view he had of God as a result of the way he had been interpreting the events of his life. He confessed that he was seeing God incorrectly due to the way he was thinking through his story, and he was able to seek help from his addiction while here at the Mission. He was able to start some new relationships based on his worth and identity in Jesus instead of on the basis of scheming and manipulating to find escapes from the pain of life.
I was able to share with him that we are all in the same spot before God: broken, coping with life in unhealthy ways and deeply loved and worth dying for, according to our good Father.
He no longer stays at the Mission, but I see him around town and we get to connect and encourage each other whenever we see each other now.
“Restored dignity” is huge in what UGM offers broken people. What does that mean in your experience?
“Restored dignity” in my experience means that people experience being treated with worth, value, respect, love and honor based on the fact that they are made in the image of God. That applies to their interactions with me and with others here at the Mission and wherever I cross over with them in life.
Restoring someone’s dignity is a work that only God can truly do, but I can participate with Him in that good work in someone’s else’s life by treating them based on their inherent worth as His creation and NOT on the basis of how they may be acting or behaving in a given moment of time.
Restoring dignity happens as someone embraces that they truly are precious, worthwhile and valuable as a human being, in full light of all their choices and circumstances. A person cannot lose or gain this dignity based on what they do or do not do or based on how others have treated them- this dignity is something a person embraces by faith and lives out in response to God’s love.
“Change” is another big word at UGM. What do you see as the key ingredients that make change happen?
Good change happens when: Time + Safety + The Gospel + Relationships of Love and Trust happen. The key ingredient for change is the work of the Holy Spirit of God, which I see as happening primarily through a combination of time, safety, the spoken Gospel and good, healthy relationships.
What do you do outside of UGM that recharges and relaxes you?
I enjoy and get recharged spending one-on-one time in intimate personal relationships with my wife, Lauren; my Dad, Mark; my dog Gatsby; and a few of my close friends. I enjoy reading (mainly epic fantasy like “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien and the “The Stormlight Archives” by Brandon Sanderson, and theology like “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard).
I enjoy working out, mainly through weight-lifting and boxing, taking walks and going for hikes and by spending time on the streets downtown connecting with people I know from the Mission or from the House of Charity. The most relaxing thing I do usually is go to a coffee shop and read every once in a while.
Other than the Bible, what’s the best book, film, or article you’ve read/watched recently and why?
The best book I have read recently is “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard. It ignited my heart for being on mission and experiencing God’s Kingdom in this life. God filled me with a deep sense of His personal love for me and gave me an inspired and powerful sense of my purpose at the same time.
If your heart, like Matt’s, is drawn to the poor and broken, UGM is the perfect place to serve. Learn more about volunteering at one of our volunteer orientations.