The Mission at Christmastime: brimming with hope, cozy and warm, piled with gifts.
This is not what I expected. I came to Union Gospel Mission in May 2020, just a writer hoping to use my skills in whatever ways the Lord desired. I didn’t know I’d experience paradigm shifts and fall in love with hundreds of precious people. I certainly didn’t know I’d experience my own community in a whole new way. But I have.
Before I became the storyteller here, I thought that nobody cared about people experiencing homelessness. I believed that little was being done and that what was being done was of little impact. The concept of real change seemed elusive at best and the notion that God’s children are to act as the hands and feet of Jesus? That was something I longed to see—even, if I’m honest, longed to learn how to do.
The paradigm shift
Union Gospel Mission certainly is not the end-all, be-all of homeless shelters. We don’t have it all figured out, and we don’t have services for every type of person. Something else I experience at my desk is the complaints against us: we don’t give away enough free cars, we don’t have enough low-barrier beds, we don’t care because we send some people away. I get it; we are not everyone’s vision of the “answer to homelessness.” However, here’s what’s amazing to me: the UGM community has a 70-year track record of helping men and women end their homelessness. Ending homelessness is one of those things I thought wasn’t happening. Naturally, we won’t end homelessness for all, but I am the bearer of hundreds of stories already of men, women and children who have gotten to see the end of their homeless days. Something is working. I could talk for days about UGM’s approach and how our three distinctives (gospel, change and jobs) make all the difference, but I get to do that every day. This article is more about the individuals—you and the people you’re blessing—and how what I didn’t know was possible is happening every single day.
After a year at UGM, I decided that my children and I would give one night a week to serve in the children’s department as volunteers. I had been struck by the number of children we were serving and I wanted my own children to learn to make sacrifices for the good of others. It seemed like a good idea, but it became a heart-rending (and good, yes) journey. I have had a child stick to my body, tears and sweat coalescing down her chest, gluing her to me as CPS agents explained that they had packed a bag for her and she was leaving. I’ve been the sounding board for teens and tweens who need to talk about their lives and dark secrets about things they’ve witnessed. I’ve watched my own children struggle to comprehend the stories they’re hearing. They look at me and back to the child, then back at me for confirmation: yes, she just said that. Yes, she has witnessed horrors.
Why do I tell you this? Because these are the people you are loving. These are the same children who I have seen run into childcare with huge smiles and new coats, exclaiming that “UGM” gave it to them. That was you. These are the same children who, just before Christmas, had the “best day ever” when they got to build little toy car kits provided by a donor.
I volunteer in childcare and I see your impact directly there, but I also see men, women and children from every corner of our ministry receiving your gifts with wide eyes and childlike wonder. We hear this often: “They don’t even know me. How are they so kind?”
My community. I did not know that I lived in a community so full of people who love like Jesus. You see the needs of those less fortunate—the abused and neglected. You also see the needs of those who have made a lifetime of poor decisions. You see their humanity and you have hope for every one of them. I think, most importantly, you don’t see them as different from yourselves. You see men and women who are seeking help and you know exactly what that’s like. Why? I’m not sure, honestly. But, I think what I’m noticing about our community of givers is that you know what it’s like to come again to the feet of Jesus, saying, “I messed up. I don’t deserve your grace. Please, just please, love me.” And you know that He does.
Some of the most profound moments I’ve had at UGM to date are moments with people like you, UGM partners and volunteers. I’ve seen the light and love of Jesus in your eyes. Recently, I sat with a parole officer who works with the women at the Center for Women and Children as he shed messy tears, relating the story of one child he’d encountered. Shortly after that, I interviewed a major donor who did not want great accolades; he just wanted to share his stance on money. He took three of the smaller decorations from the table centerpiece and held them together in his hands. “This is how people are with money. It’s mine, I earned it.” Then he gently set each item in a new place, one at a time, and said, “But everything I have is from the Lord. I want to use it how He wills, to further the Kingdom, to love well.” Most recently, I watched as your gifts came in on Giving Tuesday and so far exceeded our expectations that we collaboratively gasped in the marketing department when the final number came in.
Your gifts this Christmas
Coats, blankets, toys, gift wrap and gingerbread houses; gift cards, care packages, socks and shoes; fluffy towels, robes, shampoo and soap; money for gifts, time spent volunteering, relationships, friendships, personal notes and cards. 3,000 bus passes.
In a season where many people are anxious and rushed and even go into debt to afford Christmas, you gave of your first and your best to those in need. I don’t know if your poor families feel neglected (I tease) but you have provided another Christmas to remember at Union Gospel Mission…. and you have shown this writer how to live and love like Jesus.
Have a blessed new year, my friends. Thank you for shining the light of Christ into this weary world.