I’ve recently begun a new chapter in my life, but it seems that now is the time to tell everyone about some of the things that have been going on in my life the past couple of months. The past eight weeks have definitely been a whirlwind, but I’ve now had some time to reflect on the tremendous impact that my previous job has had on my life.
Most of you know that I started working at the Men’s Shelter at Open Door Mission in August. I accepted a position there without really knowing what I was getting myself into. I remember my first day was a shock. I went into work expecting to be working with the stereotypical homeless man. I left finding myself being ministered to by the very men that I was supposed to be helping.
My new job was one that definitely stretched me out of my comfort zone and for that I thank God. I love working with youth, but now I can see why God would allow me to minister to a different group of people. The past four years of youth ministry had become so easy and safe, especially because I knew I was good at it. It is funny how God will take you from a ministry where you are perfectly comfortable and use you in a situation that stretches you.
Perhaps the greatest transformation that came as a result of my time at Open Door Mission occurred in my own heart. As the days went by, I noticed how God opened my heart up to loving those men that I served. Instead of viewing the homeless as drunks and addicts, I started to see them as God sees them – His children. I remember reflecting several times how so many people are only one missed paycheck away from being in the same situation. I remember thinking that if I had not been blessed with an amazing family, I could very well have been one of the people living at Open Door Mission.
Towards the end of my time, I really began to understand what the verse meant that says: “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (James 1:27). My whole life has been focused on learning more about my faith and trying to apply it to my ministry with youth. While this was surely a good cause, I oftentimes overlooked the needs that faced the weakest in our community. Sometimes I intentionally turned my back on those who were desperate for the basic necessities of life, instead focusing on “bigger” issues inside my church.
The men at Open Door Mission showed me that true faith is identified only by what we do when we are faced with those who need us most. It is not enough to sit through a sermon every Sunday, read our Bible occasionally, and even tithe regularly. God called us to be His hands and His light in the most hopeless of circumstances. Growing up in a West Omaha church, I never had the opportunity to really understand what this meant. It was always an adventure to go and volunteer at a food pantry or work with inner-city kids, but I always knew that I had a safe home to return to. I always viewed the time that I gave to these causes as beneficial to those organizations, but did not understand that I was not the only answer to their prayers.
By working at the homeless shelter for a couple months, I’ve come to realize that there are so many men living there who have a true and obvious desire to serve God, no matter what their circumstances are. The community feeling among those men is so apparent and real that it felt like they were my family. They embraced me and loved on me, just like I did for them. As I opened myself up to them, they reciprocated and told me their stories. For that I will always be appreciative and those men will always have a place in my heart and prayers.
The biggest thing that I learned from my time is that we can all do so much more if we allow ourselves to be stretched. The Bible shows us countless examples of everyday, common people who did tremendous work for God’s kingdom. The disciples were not content with just giving Jesus some money for His ministry. Instead, they gave their lives to follow Him. After his conversion, Paul did not just join a church and sing in the choir. Instead, he started churches and gave his life to make sure others knew about Jesus. I cannot even begin to fathom what Omaha would look like if our churches decided to do more than just pray for those who are homeless and loveless. Only when we allow God to take us from our comfort zones, will we be able to truly see the amazing things that He has planned for our lives.
For this reason, find the time to stop by Open Door Mission. By giving some of your time, I guarantee your life will be changed forever. I know mine has.
Garland Thompson Men’s Center House Supervisor
Make a difference in the lives of others by donating your gently used clothing, furniture and household items. Donations can be dropped off at our receiving area now located on the east side of the Timberlake Outreach Center, 2107 E Locust St
• Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
• Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
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