Photo by Trevor Rapp
My wife and I met in college through involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After we married, we became very involved in our church. I taught Sunday school for years and served on different committees. But we began to feel a real need to do ministry outside of the church walls. We started reading the gospels to learn more about how Jesus did His ministry. We saw that He was involved in church—but He also went out and ministered to those not loved by society. Our prayer was, “Help us to see the world as You see it and live in it as You lived in it.”
We began volunteering once a week at Room in the Inn, a seasonal ministry of local churches that welcomes homeless men during the cold winter months, providing hot meals and a warm, safe place to sleep. We did this all winter and grew to know and love many of the men. At the end of the cold season, I asked the leader, “What do we do now?” The response was to come back next November. But we didn’t want to wait. How could we keep connected to our friends through the spring and summer? I found out that homeless men in our community gathered at McDonald’s downtown. I began stopping in the mornings to have coffee and hang out with the guys. Usually one or two of the fellows that I had met from Room in the Inn were there, so that made it easier.
One day I was working on the deck at our home and thought maybe a couple of the guys would enjoy helping to build our deck. They did, and before long they were helping in other ways at our house. They became a part of our lives. Our daughter played soccer and they went to the games with us. We opened up our family to them because most had lost their families. We had a small birthday party for one of our friends and bought him a gift and a cake. When we brought out the cake he said it had been 14 years since anyone had even said happy birthday to him. Something so simple brought him so much joy. We started thinking about all that we had and what we could share. We had a washer and dryer that we shared so our friends could wash their clothes at our home. We had a phone they could use, a computer, a garage where they could store things, and a couch for when they weren’t feeling well.
Around this time, we also started a home group that met in our home twice a month for a meal together, and Bible study with prayer and communion. We did this at first with other members from our church. After one or two gatherings, we began to invite our homeless and marginalized friends. Every other week on Friday night we began to have a group of about 10-12 people, half were usually homeless and half were “homed.”
One day my neighbor pulled me aside and said, “I’m not sure you know how uncomfortable the neighbors are with what you are doing – having all these homeless men in your home.” A few days later, I received a letter from the city saying that I needed to cease and desist having a “church” in our home. That same week we learned that another neighbor had hired an attorney in preparation for a suit against our family to force us to abandon our work with the homeless. We thought, “What are we going to do now?” We loved our house and neighborhood. We prayed about it and thought we could fight it and go to court, but even if we won, the relationships with our neighbors would still be fractured. We had been praying and thinking about ways to simplify—so we decided to leave the neighborhood. We informed the neighbors we were leaving, and we decided to buy a smaller, less expensive home to get completely out of debt. We bought a home not far away but on a busier street where our homeless friends would be less conspicuous. Our new neighborhood was more impersonal than our previous neighborhood. Now several years later, our new neighbors know we “help people” but beyond that there have been no questions or complaints. And the financial freedom we have discovered after moving to this house has been one of the most liberating things we have ever done.
We created a ministry which provides bus passes, clothing, sleeping bags, and tents. We also wanted to give the fellows the opportunity to give back, and they wanted to do that. We began a woodworking night in our basement one night a week. The money made from selling the items we create goes back into the ministry to help others who are marginalized or homeless. I love woodworking and making conversation. My wife loves opening our home and serving others. Hospitality gives her so much joy. God uses both of us to love and serve our friends.
At first, we wanted to change our new friends. We wanted to get them housed and help them find employment. Over the years, we realized that God doesn’t call us to change people. He calls us only to love them and communicate His love to them. Striving to change our friends was not really loving them. So, we accepted our friends where they were, knowing that in the end, they may not change a whole lot. We realized this must be the way God loves us in our constant struggles with our own sin. God is patient. He doesn’t give up on us. He is waiting for us to open ourselves to Him and confess our need for Him. God doesn’t reject us when we fail.
God has transformed our hearts. I was a faculty member at a big university and led research there. But God was calling us to a different life. I no longer work for the university. I now work fewer hours and make less money. This has not been an easy process. I have lowered my expectations of myself in relation to my career and now spend more time with my family and serving others. God has returned much more to us than we have given up. We are very grateful for the change. Now when I drive past a big beautiful home or a nice car, I don’t long to have those things. We are content—more than content. Through this process, God has brought us a new freedom, new relationships, and much joy and love.
God has also changed my attitude toward those who are different from me. Before, I was judgmental. I thought, “Why don’t they just get a job?” I didn’t understand. Before, when I drove past a guy pushing a grocery cart, I would not have thought of that guy as a Christian—but now I know many of those guys! And many are Christians—and have wonderful relationships with the Lord. Their problems are just very visible. My problems, though less visible, are no less real. Jesus has opened my eyes and my heart and I am so grateful.
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.’ — Matthew 25:40
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.