The other day as I was standing in the lobby of our shelter watching the residents come back from church I saw something that really touched my heart. A young mother, with three small children, was carrying an empty shoebox to fill for the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child gift drive. Here she is, homeless with three small children and a minimum wage job, preparing to give to someone else. That’s the kind of generosity God is looking for. She was willing to give out of her scarcity to someone with even less. And she was overjoyed to give. That’s what giving is really all about. In Luke chapter 21, the first 4 verses is the story of the “Widow’s Mite.” As Jesus observed the poor widow putting 2 small copper coins in the offering he said that she had given more than all the wealthy people who had given much more.
Very early in my ministry I pastored a church that used “pledge cards” completed by the members in order to plan for the following year’s budget. (a practice I would no longer recommend today but none-the-less, one we used back then.) The deacons were assigned to go into the homes of the members and collect the cards from each family. I went out with a very old and wise deacon as we went into the home of one of our most wealthy members. As the man of the house filled out their pledge card he quipped, “I guess I can give my widow’s mite,” to which the deacon quickly answered, “Oh, no. You don’t have to do that.” The member looked at him very strangely and said, “What do you mean?” The old deacon replied, “She gave all she had and the church doesn’t expect that much from you.”
How much are you overjoyed to give? The Bible tells us that God loves a joyful giver. Giving to God’s church and ministries is a privilege and not a duty. We should remember that when we are financially supporting our local churches and community ministries.
Poverty and homelessness are dehumanizing and debilitating when faced alone. The vast majority of the time the victims are unable to escape without help from someone. It’s like they have fallen into a pit whose walls have been greased. Unless someone offers a hand in the escape it is highly unlikely the victim will recover at all. While in homelessness there are only two things that consume all of the homeless person’s mind and energy. One, “where will I sleep tonight?” and two, “how will I eat today?” Up until this year Johnson County Christian Lodge has concentrated on solving these two problems for victims of homelessness but through experience with thousands of homeless persons we have discovered that there are still multitudes of problems which are equally as difficult to solve:
- Affordable housing is very hard to come by
- Lack of saleable skills prevents obtaining real gainful employment
- The costs of transportation (car, insurance, fuel, etc.) are crippling
- Much needed medical and dental treatments are out of reach for the majority
- Money management skills are non-existent
I could go on and on but I’m trying to limit my blogs to 500 words.
Just housing the homeless is a nice step but so much more needs to be done. We are now in the throes of examining what more can be done for the homeless and just how those things can be accomplished here in Johnson County. There are many resources available here in Cleburne but few are large enough to accomplish what needs to be done and there is little in the way of coordination of these services.
We are about to embark on a journey to expand and coordinate services these people need. We will need to begin raising funds for this effort. We will also need volunteers who have the skills we need to launch these efforts.
What needs do you see for the homeless and how do you see yourself involved in the process? We’d love to hear from you.
Here at Johnson County Christian Lodge we work very hard at showing God’s love in very tangible ways to thousands of individuals, however we sometimes have encountered people who accuse us of being non-Christian. These accusations usually come to us from those we have been serving with free food, free lodging, free counseling, free medications and free assistance in obtaining documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses and social security cards but who feel there should be no rules about how to behave in our facilities. It also comes from those who don’t feel that they should have to do daily chores to keep our shelters clean and sanitary. In other words, to be “Christian” you have to be like Santa Claus. “Give me what I want, when I want it with no responsibilities attached.” That is not “Christian.” It is “welfare.” Goods and services obtained without sacrifice on the recipient’s part have no value to them. A large part of what we do here at JCCL is help teach residents to be responsible for their own actions. That’s part of being a “Homelessness Recovery Center” and not just a shelter. Teaching new life skills and attitudes are the only way to bring about lasting changes in a client’s life. If our residents aren’t actively involved in their own recovery we really can’t help them. If we put more effort into their recovery than they do recovery will not take place. We do everything we know how to assist and direct those who are actively involved in their own recovery. Those are the ones who follow the house rules and do their chores. Those are the ones who turn out to be successful in finding and keeping permanent housing. Using scripture as our guide we refer to 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where Paul states: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We welcome all who are willing to expend the effort to improve themselves.
Our local observance of World Homelessness Day will be on October 8, 2016. It will be a 5K run through south Cleburne and will begin Hulen Park at the Gazebo. It will be combined with a “Soup Kitchen” lunch which will be provided to all participants with their entry fee or to anyone else who chooses not to run for a $10 donation. Go to “Clear the Streets” to register for the run or the lunch.
When I began this ministry almost 7 years ago I didn’t know quite how I would accomplish what I had set out to do. There was no book entitled “How to Run a Homeless Shelter.” I knew there were people who didn’t have an appropriate place to stay because, as a Pastor, I was continually being approached by those needing lodging for the night. My small church didn’t have any funds for this type of thing and so I would have to turn them down. The government had initiatives to “End Homelessness.” They throw money at the problem and start bureaucracies. But the answer still eludes them. It reminded me of the time during a children’s sermon when the children were asked “What is grey and furry with a large bushy tail, that climbs trees and eats and stores nuts?” There was a long pause and a boy in the back raised his hand and said, “It sounds like a squirrel but I know the answer is Jesus.” Lots of adult laughter ensued but his answer was actually correct. In all of the government programs the one missing element is Jesus. And it is forbidden in most cases. A personal relationship with our Lord is central to solving the problem of homelessness and almost everything else for that matter. Yes, the government is always searching for the answer but it’s like the man who found a young lady on her hands and knees under a street light obviously searching for some unseen object. As he approached he said, “can I help you?” to which she replied, “I lost my contact lens.” So he said, “let me help you” and got down on his hands and knees and began searching as well. After searching for a while he asked, “Where did you lose it?” to which she replied, “about 15 feet over there.” He asked, “why are you looking over here?” She replied, “Because the light’s better over here.” The lesson here is that if you’re looking in the wrong place, the answer won’t be found even if the search is easier.
We have had a great deal of success in helping over 1300 homeless people but we always start the process by presenting Jesus, the answer to most problems.
Having pastored small churches for a large part of my preaching career I know how frustrating it can be when a needy family comes in the church needing a place to stay. Small churches have a very limited budget when it comes to ministering to the downtrodden in a tangible way. It can cost $100 a night to put up a family in a cheap hotel. And that doesn’t feed them. Yet I wanted to be the hands and feet of Christ in my ministry. In Matthew 25 Jesus talks about how the King will separate the sheep from the goats by how they ministered or did not minister to the hurting. The sheep (the righteous) received their reward while the goats (the unrighteous) received eternal punishment. But how can the church go about helping with their limited financial resources? In 2008 Johnson County Christian Lodge in Cleburne, Texas was established in order to be the ministry facility that every church needed but no one church could afford. The concept was that all of the churches would contribute to support this ministry and thereby be able minister as God expects. The churches can refer the homeless to us to feed and house, and we can do it for about $8.00 per person per night. In the 6+ years we have been open we have served over 1700 individuals with a total of 65,000 bed/nights and 165,000 meals. Is your church among those who support us? If not, please pray about having your church put us in your budget this next year. If you’d like for someone to come and make a presentation about this ministry go the contact section of this website. We’d love to tell you more.
Government is constantly saying, “We’ve got to do something about the homeless problem!” What they’re really saying is, “We’ve got to get rid of these annoying homeless people!” The social services say it’s because of a lack of affordable housing. Law enforcement says they are breaking the vagrancy laws. The Health Department says they are a health code enforcement problem. The churches are saying “We’ve got to help these poor people.” So what does it all boil down to? It’s a people problem. And there are almost as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people and trying to rid ourselves of them is like getting rid of fire ants. You can get rid of the tent city but they’ll just go underground for a while and then pop up somewhere else. To fix the problem we have to fix the people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution but there is one common denominator that can lead to the solutions. That common denominator is Christ in the lives of these people. Many will say that they are Christians but only because they know ABOUT Christ but have no personal relationship with Him. That’s like saying you are being cured of an infection because you know ABOUT antibiotics. In both cases the cure must be taken internally to have an effect.
The church, that is the Christ followers, need to step up and address the problem without the government’s help. If the government gets involved they will prevent us from giving the homeless the ONE thing they need most…CHRIST. Without that one ingredient nothing else will work. If you agree then support your local homeless facility with your prayers, your effort and your money. But it must be an organization that presents God’s plan of salvation to every resident.
Have you seen a homeless person in your community? I’ll bet you have and didn’t know it. They are all around us in plain view….but they’re hiding. Have you been to the local Walmart or Target? You’ve seen them. How about the fast-food restaurants? You’ve seen them there as well. Your children are going to school with homeless children and they don’t know it. These people look just like everyone else. Oh, sure, you have a vision of what a homeless person looks like in your head. You think of a dirty person who needs a shave and is carrying a bottle in a bag or pushing a grocery cart down the street. Yes, there are homeless people who look like that but most of them look like you and me. How about some examples:
- Cheryl (all names have been changed) is 23 years old and has 2 boys aged 3 and 6. She has been physically and mentally abused by her spouse and has decided to leave him for her own safety and the safety of the boys. She’s been sleeping in her car for 2 weeks on the Walmart parking lot. It seems safe and there are 24 hour restrooms. But she’s hungry. She came to us for help and we put her up in our family shelter with clean sheets, her own bathroom and 3 meals a day. Her oldest son is enrolled in school and the younger one is in daycare while she looks for work.
- Bob is 35, married with a wife and 3 boys and has been employed in the gas fields. He made good money while working there but the gas fields have closed and he has been forced to sell everything he has to pay his debts. With no car or home he has to spend all his time finding food for his family and a safe place to sleep. His family came to us for help and after only 3 weeks has gotten back on his feet. He has a new job, a new apartment and he and his family are doing well.
These are a couple of the faces of homelessness that have come through our ministry. I’ll bet you’d never recognize them on the street.
After six years of listening to people’s stories about their own personal journey to homelessness I have heard literally thousands of stories about how people become homeless. It may have been a fire or natural disaster which claimed a family’s home. Perhaps someone is just coming out of jail or prison and has nowhere to turn. Maybe there has been extended medical expenses that have consumed all of a person’s resources. Sometimes a marriage or relationship has disintegrated and one of the parties was forced to leave. Sometimes employment has ended and families are no longer able to pay their rent or utilities. Whatever the circumstance, a high percentage of people today are only one paycheck away from homelessness. Usually, in the final analysis, it boils down to a series of poor or wrong choices or decisions. Financial decisions, social decisions, employment decisions, health or drug use decisions. Many times it is not massively inappropriate decisions but rather a series of small decisions that accumulate with disastrous results. So the bad news is that people get to a place they don’t want to be by the choices they make.
The good news is that by the same process that took them to a place they don’t want to be they can get to a place they do want to be by making better choices. That’s GREAT news.
Here at Johnson County Christian Lodge we assist homeless persons in making better choices that will bring better results. While a person is homeless there are really only 2 things on their minds; where will I sleep and what will I eat? Until those circumstances are taken care of survival is of foremost concern. We take care of both of those concerns so that the individuals can concentrate on making the better choices that will improve their condition. Here at Johnson County Christian Lodge we’ve been doing that for over 6 years for more than 1700 people and we do it without charge. Getting our people re-employed and re-housed is our top priority.
When I began this ministry 5 years ago it was a common occurrence for me to hear, “There are no homeless people in Johnson County!” From what I could see and have seen in the past 6 years, all those people were WRONG! When we completed our first shelter in April of 2010 we were full within 5 days. That has continued to this day and in 6 years we have served over 40,000 bed/nights and 90,000 meals. In August we opened our second facility and that one has remained 90% full as well.
Homelessness spans all ages, ethnicities and genders. When I began I expected to serve mostly men however that proved to be wrong. Over the years up to 70% of our residents have been women, many with small children. At one point we had 15 children in our facility having a capacity of 30 beds. We have housed women who have been abandoned by their spouse, who have lost their jobs and been evicted, who have been brought to us by CPS for protection from abusive mates, grandmothers raising their grandchildren and high school students who were thrown out by their families when they reached 18 years of age. We have served Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and Muslims. We have served whites, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans and native Americans. One thing that they now have in common, however, is that they have been exposed to the message of Jesus Christ, the son of God. Some come to believe while others reject the message. We do feel it is imperative for them to be introduced to the one who has provided the help they need now and the only hope they have for eternity. Some may feel offended by the message but that’s OK, too. They need to know that we do this because Jesus loves them and has called us to this ministry to provide for them.
How about you? Would you like to help us provide this ministry? We need your monetary support and your volunteer efforts. Go to the “About Us” tab for contact information. We look forward to speaking with you.