Imagine with me a small town in the middle of America.
A cursory glance through this small town’s phone book reveals over 25 churches: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopalian, nondenominational, big churches, small churches, this town’s got it covered. Imagine, too, that this town is home to a small, Christian liberal arts college. In fact, it would be safe to imagine that thousands of self-professing Christians call this town home. They probably don’t agree on a lot of things, but imagine–just for a moment–that they agree on one thing: they believe Jesus when he said that loving your neighbor as yourself is one of the greatest commandments, second only to loving the Lord your God with your whole heart.
If you can, imagine that this town has a quaint Main Street, complete with coffee shops, boutiques, antique stores, maybe even a high-end children’s clothing store. It’s such a lovely little town, this imaginary place, that someone could live here for years and have no idea of its seedy underbelly. Of the debilitating poverty that keeps bellies empty, food far from the tables where it is needed, and children home from school. Of the crippling effects of job loss, home foreclosures, and health insurance expenses. Someone might think that homelessness doesn’t happen here because it doesn’t manifest itself in folks standing on the corner holding cardboard signs. But imagine with me that it does happen here, that it tends to look more like people sharing homes, couch-surfing, multi-generational living, and yes, some people sleeping outside, in the park, under the underpasses, hidden from Main Street. Yes, it does happen here, in myriad forms. A lot.
Now imagine that a woman–maybe you can even imagine that she’s a friend of yours–comes along and takes notice. She begins to network with organizations that can meet needs in her community. She starts a nonprofit to provide emergency housing, offer counseling, develop short-term transitional housing options. Imagine that she even opens her own home to a handful of people who need help. She starts talking about poverty in her town and raising awareness among those more-than-twenty-five churches.
As your friend works with the homeless in this community, imagine that she begins to notice that the majority of folks seeking help in this town are women with children, pregnant women, single moms. And she gets an idea: What if we started a women’s and children’s shelter here in our town?
And now imagine that she does.
Imagine that she raises enough money and scrounges up enough volunteers to completely renovate an old house downtown. Imagine that a contractor volunteers to do the work at cost. Imagine that churches, business, and other groups ‘adopt’ rooms in the home to furnish and decorate each space. And imagine that it is beautiful.
When your friend plans an open house for early November in hopes of opening the doors of this women’s shelter before winter weather strikes, imagine that people show up to celebrate with her. To show their support for the project. To acknowledge the needs of their community and to stand with your friend and the women and children who have already applied to live in this transitional shelter.
Now imagine that weeks have gone by, that today is the last day in November. That the temperatures are dropping below freezing at night.
And the shelter, as beautiful as it is, sits empty.
Imagine that the reason–the only reason–is not the lack of women seeking help or the lack of funding.
It’s the lack of volunteers.
In this town of more-than-twenty-five churches, this town of thousands of Christians, this place where people love their neighbors as themselves, there aren’t enough volunteers able to give four hours in a row, to sit at a desk in a women’s shelter.
To simply be present.
To be continued...