Sunday, November 3, 2013

Family Promise - Jesus With Skin On

“’And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’… And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:38 & 40)

Hopefully by now most of you know that -- beginning in 2014 -- our church will join 12 other area churches in hosting homeless families (parents with children) four weeks out of each year through the ministry of something called “Family Promise of Cobb County.”  While this may sound intimidating to some, it’s really a very practical and easy way that we can live out both our faith and calling as God’s people and church.

Back in 1998, I remember that this concept sounded very intimidating to many members of Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta, GA, as well.  It was the “flagship” church of United Methodism in that city, and the place where I served as Pastor of Community and Congregational Care from 1996-2000.  Back then, “Family Promise” was known as “Interfaith Hospitality Network” (IHN), and when our church was first invited to be a host congregation, it was greeted initially by skepticism and doubt that we could actually do it, and some who wondered whether we even should do it.  Plus, there was the concern that our facilities would get messed up by “those people” (the homeless).

Nevertheless, our church took that “leap of faith” and became one of the host congregations in the network.  And the amazing thing was that over the next two years, we saw our entire church changed by the experience!  Walls, barriers, and stereotypes about homelessness came down, members’ hearts were softened and transformed, and the program itself provided opportunities for missions that we had not previously had.  Gradually, there grew a recognition that these homeless folks were just like us, except for their lack of having a permanent residence.  And while it’s true that “Family Promise/IHN” was not (and still is not) a “Christian” ministry, per se (there are other religious faiths who have and will be part of the program), volunteering and serving in it was one of the highlights of my ministry time in Augusta, and became one of the best and most successful ministries our church had ever done!

Sixteen years later, as we here at East Cobb UMC partner with Family Promise of Cobb County” both as a host congregation and as the site for the “Day Center” (administrative offices) for the entire network (in our former “Jr. Parsonage”), my prayer is that we’ll see God at work in the same miraculous way, not only to make a difference in the lives of homeless families, but in the way that this program will enable us to be “Jesus with skin on” to needy families in our community -- to literally fulfill Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 (above).

So, I pray that you will join me and my family not only in volunteering to cook and stay overnight with our host families when asked, but also to pray for them and for ourselves as we seek to be a “home” to those who temporarily have no other.  You’ll be hearing more about this important new ministry initiative of our church in the near future, but in the meantime, for more information read Cindy Campbell’s introduction article already posted.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

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