Family Promise is a fairly new resource in our area that provides temporary shelter for families experiencing homelessness. It involves local churches who provide a place to stay, meals and other support, enabling families to stay together as they take steps towards obtaining employment, transportation and a home. Churches provide a week’s worth of hospitality four times a year.
Our church was literally dragged into this program by a family who insisted we be a part of our county’s effort to establish a chapter of Family Promise. While that family is no longer connected with our congregation, we found ourselves unable to find any reason why we shouldn’t or couldn’t do this. We had the space, the volunteers, the resources and the heart to minister to these families, so we became a host church.
A year later, after five different weeks of hosting, I find that for us, it’s not so much what we did for Family Promise, but what Family Promise did for us.
First, Family Promise exposed us to the name and faces of families experiencing homeless. Most of the time, when we talk about the homeless, we know they are out there, but we have no idea who they are. We may have seen someone in that situation, but we never met them. Now, we’ve broken bread with them, heard their stories, played with their children, worshiped with them and prayed for them. And we still do.
Family Promise blew up our capacity for compassion. We thought we were a compassionate, caring and loving congregation. Our guests took us to the next level, sharing their lives with us, caring about our families and gratefully accepting whatever we could offer them. In a way they took us under their wing and helped us rediscover the importance of family, of hope and commitment.
Family Promise brought people in our church together. Some of our volunteers had never met each other before. Our guests enabled new friendships to be forged.
Family Promise made us work hard and do things we didn’t want to do. We had to recruit volunteers, move furniture, buy food, prepare meals, clean, do laundry, spend the night, get up early and make our church home a safe home for the families. We actually had to do something rather than simply make a donation. We had to live the reality these families faced every day.
Family Promise showed us a different side of ourselves. You don’t get to know someone very well when you are sitting in worship on a Sunday morning. We got to see each other talking with the parents, playing with the kids, taking out the trash, and drinking coffee first thing in the morning. No better no worse, just real people doing real stuff in the name of a real God.
Finally, Family Promise opened our eyes to what’s possible when you drag yourself away from the TV, a comfy bed and the Internet for a while. You don’t need a ton of resources to make a difference. Just a little love.