By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—As temperatures dip, many BCM/D churches throughout Maryland and Delaware partner with other churches and non-profits, of a variety of denominations, to house the homeless, feed the hungry and help those “falling between the cracks.”
Riva Trace Baptist Church, Davidsonville, participates in the Winter Relief shelter sponsored by The Arundel House of Hope in Glen Burnie. Churches provide transportation to the church, a place to sleep, and a hot meal.
At Riva Trace, in addition to the basic needs, members provide free haircuts, special chili nights, a cookout and an ice cream social. One of the evenings, guests are treated to crab soup and crab cakes. Youth help set up and pack lunches. Kids decorate placemats and lunch bags. One woman knits hats.
“They really like the hats. As fast as she knits them, they’re claimed,” Site Coordinator Ron Rayhorn said. Guests also participate in Bible studies and prayer time.
Faith Baptist Church, Glen Burnie, also participates in Winter Relief. The church offered karate demonstrations provided by Warriors of Grace Karate. Members provided mending services, patching clothing and repairing zippers. Church member Cindy Barlock played the piano and sang for the men.
“We had incredible participation – over 100 volunteers,” Site Coordinator Lauren Hawkin said. Sunday school classes and small groups provided meals. The youth served lunch and dinner. One guest was particularly touched when the church gave him a birthday party with a cake.
“He said it meant so much to him. He doesn’t have a family. I told him he’s always welcome to come back and we’ll be here for him.
“Another gentleman came to us midweek. His wife had just passed away. He needed a lot of counseling and several from the church stood by him to help him through the viewings and funeral.”
South Columbia Baptist Church partners with Laurel Winter Shelter (Formerly Winterhaven), sponsored by LARS (Laurel Advocacy and Referral Service). Site Coordinator Lis Doane is very clear in her personal calling to oversee this ministry at the church. “I don’t look at this as a shelter, but as a ministry. We are trying to touch people with the love of Christ,” Doane says. “What motivates me is my relationship with Jesus Christ.
“These men are on the streets and they don’t get a lot of love. We always hold our week during Valentine’s Day. We throw a big Valentine’s party and give them cookies. This year, we’re having someone make chocolates and they always get Valentine’s cards.”
Church members write notes and put them in their guests’ bag lunches. One man told Doane he saved every single note.
The church provides homemade quilts, offer free haircuts; the children’s choir sings and the youth perform drama.
“We do everything we can think of to show them love,” Doane said.
A vital part of the ministry is simply sharing time with the men. A lot of times these guys don’t have anyone to listen to them,” Doane said.
Doane said when the church began participating in the ministry, some had doubts and hesitations. Now, it is one of the two primary ministries that brings the church together as a body.
The church hosts homeless families for three to four separate weeks in a year-round program.
Church members prepare Sunday school rooms to be makeshift bedrooms for several families, furnishing the rooms with inflatable mattresses, lamps and other amenities.
“We pick them up at 6 p.m., bring them to the church and provide a hot meal for them. Typically, volunteers will hang out with them, talk, watch television and pack lunches for the next day. A volunteer from the church stays overnight during the week,” explained Keith Riley, who serves as the congregational coordinator, along with his wife, Brenda.
The families go to a center during the day where they have access to a kitchen, showers and laundry facilities.
Riley said the families are in transition. “Typically, they have not been on the street for a long time. Most are blue collar workers. Some have college educations. They were living paycheck to paycheck and due to downsizing, medical expenses or a reduced shift, they couldn’t handle the cost of rent anymore.
“This is a great opportunity to share the love of Christ, to share with the poor in a real way.” Riley said funding is important, but the hands-on ministry is a tremendous blessing to the families and to the church.
“This has opened people’s eyes to the reality of how a lot of the world lives. It’s easy to go through the days, weeks, even years, without being aware of how privileged we are.”
Riley said some church members have had opportunities to share what God has done in their own lives, how He is the source of their stability and strength.