Today I Saw God
Editor's Note: This week 25 high school students and fiveleaders traveled to Toronto,Canada to do inner-city mission work. The following are updates from two of the students on the trip.
We were off to the church. Our luggage was squished into the back of our Toyota Highlander. It would be unloaded and then reloaded into the bus that would take us to Toronto. We checked in, said farewells to parents, completed the usual pre-mission trip duties and then we prayed.
While we were standing in a big circle, hands linked with total strangers who I would travel with, I felt God's presence there, ready to help us through the upcoming week of volunteering. The prayer ended, but God's presence lingered, staying with us as we occupied the bus and drove away.
Stops were made, long McDonald's lines were endured, questionable gas stop purchases were made and an absurd amount of soda was drank, but we made it to Canada. It's a really pretty place.
I'm looking forward to the rest of our time in this beautiful country. And I know everyone here will strive to help others and become better and stronger children of God in the process.
Submitted by Jessie Taylor.
Even though my group worked to improve the living space for many homeless women today, I saw God elsewhere.
After our cleaning and organizing, we sang karaoke with the women. I saw God as the women's faces lit up with joy and excitement about our singing. I saw God in everyone who sang and how enthusiastic they all were.
God brought joy to the women in the shelter and our group today in an unexpected way.
Submitted by Craig Benson.
Editor's Note: The Floris Guest House is a program at Floris United Methodist Church (Floris UMC) in Herndon, Virginia. During one week in January, Floris UMC hosts about 40 homeless individuals each night 5 p.m.-7 a.m. Guests receive a hot dinner, breakfast, a place to sleep, a shower and the opportunity to participate in various evening activities. The following post was written by one of the Floris Guest House 2017 volunteers, Susanne Keating.
I have a new friend. (My kids would exclaim, "You always say you have a new friend!") And they are right. I love to meet new people and develop new relationships. Maybe that is why I enjoyed my time at the Floris Guest House.
This year my new friend seemed to know me before we were even introduced. We immediately hit it off and started chatting about the beautiful facilities at Floris UMC and her appreciation for the hospitality shown by our congregation.
When she told me she was originally from Atlanta, I asked if she would help me brainstorm ideas for food to represent the Atlanta Falcons on Super Bowl Sunday. She rattled off a list that included Brunswick stew, peach cobbler, peach sweet tea and more. We debated the merits of frozen peachesI was skeptical!
I confessed that I am not a very confident cook, which is especially embarrassing to me because my grandmother was a home economics teacher. Then my new friend asked me what I like to eat, and we began the first of many "cooking lessons." Over the course of the week I took very detailed notes.
Early on she diagnosed my biggest challenge as a cook: I lack patience. My friend explained each recipe slowly and lovingly while I peppered her with questions. She finally said, "Suzanne, be patient!" With each new recipe she emphasized and even demonstrated the need to slowly stir then "Let it be." She often reminded me of the importance of letting the ingredients take their time to develop the perfect flavor.
Most of her recipes began with her saying, "Of course you start with the Holy Trinity!" Thank goodness I remembered something from my grandmother and was able to knowingly nod my head and say, "Onions, peppers and celerygot it!"
She explained how her cooking had evolved over time to entice her daughters to try new foods. She said she was always " reinventing her dishes" as well as imitating her favorite TV chefs. She had a certain apron that put her in a "Julia Child mode," but she also loved Emeril's signature, "BAM!"
At home I worked on honing my cooking skills (and patience). Each evening she shared bits and pieces of her lifeboth the blessings and the challenges. She treated me to a few serenades with her beautiful singing voice.
On our final day together she arrived with a computer she had received from the Lamb Center. She pulled up her Facebook page, devoted to positive messages and inspirational Bible verses. It turned out that for many years she ran a women's ministry that served several cities in the South, supporting women and their physical and spiritual needs. She scrolled through the many fliers and postings she had created over the past few years.
My friend hopes to continue these programs in the near future. She told me that she thinks God brought us together to help hear her voice. I told her I would pray for her success. So I follow her Facebook page and watch hopefully to see her ministries reach the Women of the D.C. area.
P.S. She even helped me perfect the art of cooking kale. My husband says he would even eat it for breakfast.
Some of the best moments of my life have been marked by the decision to hold hands and pray.
One of the places where I have learned the most about holding hands and praying isThe Lamb Center, a day shelter for homeless and poor individuals in Fairfax. Many of the guests that spend the night at our church when we host the Floris Guest House each year spend their days as guests of The Lamb Center.
At The Lamb Center, we hold hands and pray at least six times a day as a community. We pause, we gather, we join hands and we bow our heads. We talk to God about what has happened so far in our day and what is coming next. We acknowledge how much we need our Heavenly Father and how much we need each other. We say thank you, and we ask for help. No fancy words or rituals, just a moment to say,"We love you too, Lord."
In this community, prayer is a part of the moment-by-moment rhythm of each day, as natural as breathing. If I'm honest, this kind of "praying without ceasing" is a way of living to which I have always aspired personally but have never been able to consistently maintain on my own.
One of my favorite times of prayer at The Lamb Center happened this past summer. In June, after years of waiting and hoping, we celebrated our beautiful, brand new building with an enormous party. Over 400 people wandered through and took tours of the place God built in answer to thousands of prayers. Community leaders spoke, we cut a red ribbon with giant scissors and we took hundreds of pictures. It was a day brimming with joy, laughter and gratitude.
Two years before, we set out to raise $4.5 million to build a more welcoming place of respite for poor and homeless individuals in our community. When the party started that Sunday, we were joyfully celebrating the fact God had already provided $4 million toward our goal through the generosity and prayers of his people, an amount beyond our wildest dreams.
When the party ended, as if all of the above wasn't enough, we found out someone had agreed to pay the final balance on the building. All $4.5 million was provided, and the building is paid in full! Without a mortgage, we will be able to pour all future donations into services for our guests. As we held hands and prayed our closing prayer of gratitude that day, I was not the only one in tears. Truly, a miracle!
So what is the message here? If we hold hands and pray six times a day, God will give us $4.5 million and the desires of our heart?
Not really. But maybe?
Holding hands and praying together is full of hard things like humility, vulnerability,intimacy and expectations. We admit we don't have all the answers and we need help. We acknowledge our lack of control and our reliance on things much bigger than ourselves, both God and the power of community. We let down our guard, and we take off our masks of superiority, pride and independence. We can't see what is coming when we bow our heads and close our eyes. As we widen our circle, we discover some of our hands are a little bit dirty, or sweaty, or freezing cold. Sometimes, holding hands and praying together can be uncomfortable or awkward.
Yet, every single time I hold hands and pray with someone else, I experience the tangible presence of God. I can't always say the same when I pray alone. We reach out our hand and humble our hearts to pray:
- gathered at the table about to share a meal with people we love
- headed out to serve for the day on a mission trip
- preparing to go on stage with fellow cast members
- enjoying coffee in a dear friend's living room
- searching for healing and answers in the face of illness, anger, tragedy or grief
Holy and profound things happen when we hold hands and pray. Healing, forgiveness and transformation happen when we hold hands and pray.
Miracles happen when we hold hands and pray.
Originally published on www.kellyjohnsongracenotes.com.
For the past two years, I have volunteered at the Floris Guest House with many other members of my church family. The Floris Guest House is special to me personally because it is an overlap of two important parts of my life. The guests we serve at the Floris Guest House during the evening hours are often the same guests we serve at The Lamb Center during the day.
The Lamb Center, where I have been volunteering since 2008, is a local day shelter for homeless and poor individuals located in Fairfax City. The Lamb Center is a Christian organization dedicated to providing a place of respite to those in our community who may not have anywhere else to go. The Lamb Center guests have access to breakfast and lunch, as well as showers and laundry services. Dedicated staff and volunteers are there to assist those who visit with accessing other services they might need, such as healthcare, mental health services, job placement and veteran benefits. The Lamb Center offers two Bible studies every day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and the community gathers to pray seven times a day. While Bible study and prayer are always optional, the care given to each individual who walks through the door is offered with the hopes that they will know how very much God loves them.
In the years since I began serving weekly at The Lamb Center, I have been stretched. Initially, I was overwhelmed by my sense of inadequacy in the face of such great need. I was moved and humbled by the stories of the people I met around the Bible study table each week, yet what could I do to help? What did a wealthy suburban mom have to offer someone living in the desperate circumstances many of these folks find themselves in?
Simply put, I have myself to give. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can offer my friends at the shelter my love, my listening ear, the touch of my hand, a warm hug, a moment of prayer or a kind word. I have my unique life experiences to offerthe losses I have survived, the pain I have felt, the joy of knowing God and the wisdom of following God. I have my love of God's word to share and the knowledge that the promises within are for every single one of us, regardless of our circumstances, our resources or our past.
I have me to offer, a gift no one else can give.
In the years I have spent with my friends at the center, I have received more than I have given. Through my involvement in this holy community, I experience God's presence and I am changed. God takes my willingness to offer myself, and like the story of the loaves and fishes, God multiplies my humble gifts to feed his hungry children. I pour myself out and I am filled. The kingdom of God at work!
My story is true for each one of us. I am lucky to be part of a church that offers so many different opportunities to serve both in the church and in the larger community. We each have unique gifts to give to a hurting world, but we must be willing to leave behind the comfortable and the familiar. Our stories can bring healing to others but only if we are willing to share them.
The Lord says he will guide us always, but first we must say yes!
"If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungryand satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden,like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58: 10-11.
Learn more about The Lamb Center at TheLambCenter.org.
Recently I shared how one of our ministries, the Floris Guest House, came to be. Earlier this year we finished our third Guest House, where we hosted 40 or so individuals at our church for a week as a part of a greater ecumenical coalition (group of churches) that hosts the homeless from December to the end of March in partnership with FACETS, a local social service agency.
This year, 239 volunteers gave over 1,400 hours to serve our neighbors. In addition to a warm place to sleep, volunteers provided new winter clothing and boots, hot showers, warm meals and games and activities.
When we planned our first year of this program, one of the questions that came up was what we were going to name the program. Since we already had a "hypothermia program" via our partnership with Cornerstones (another local social service agency), we didn't want to confuse the congregation with another hypothermia program.
As a group, we wanted the program to have a stronger feeling of hospitality and warmth than just a normal hypothermia program. Obviously, ensuring that the homeless have a warm place to sleep during the winter months was the priority, but we also wanted to set the tone for how we would interact with our guests.
The term "guests" kept coming up. That's how we wanted to refer to our friends that would be staying with us and that's how FACETS asked us to reference those needing shelter. We ultimately decided the "Guest House" fully encapsulated the tone and intent of our program. A reading from Luke 14:12-14 better explains what the team was thinking when they came up with the name:
"And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, 'When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'"
We knew that this program would not only bless our neighbors, but it would also bless our congregation. As hosts to our guests, our members and volunteers sought to be warm, loving and hospitable. By calling it "Guest House," we set a tone of hospitality that is evident in how people are treated and in the services we provide.
It's been an amazing three years of the Guest House, and I look forward to working with you on next year's program!