KOH2RVA: Day 181

Good news!  The Kingdom of Heaven is coming to Richmond, Virginia!  This letter from CARITAS, one of our partners in the effort to end homelessness, will make a believer out of you!

To: CARITAS Congregation Partners
From: Sharon Drescher, CARITAS Volunteer Manager
Date: March 5, 2013
Subject: CARITAS and the Fight to End Homelessness

homeless manTogether we are fighting the good fight against Homelessness and we are WINNING! The most recent numbers show that our overall numbers are down. This is good news! We thank you for joining us in this valuable work and hope you know we could not do this without all of you.

CARITAS started as a winter cots program nearly 25 years ago with limited client services. Learning from our experience and innovating along the way, CARITAS added case management to address the root causes of homelessness, such as mental illness and addiction. Today, there is a newer model that is proving to be more effective and efficient in helping the homeless become independent in our community. Research shows that people are better able to become self-sufficient if they live in housing (rather than emergency shelter) early on and are surrounded there with the support services they need. This focus on prevention and rapid re-housing has been endorsed by Homeward, our authority on best practices, and government funding sources are moving in this direction as well. We join with our other partners in human services area in supporting these coordinated community-wide efforts.

Even though the emphasis has shifted, we recognize that there will always be a need for emergency shelter. CARITAS has made a commitment to continue to provide emergency shelter for the neediest among us, and we will continue to need you, our congregation partners.


For those of you who are currently hosting CARITAS Shelter guests this means there will be some changes in our available weeks. CARITAS will not need to open a second men’s site during the winter months; so, there will be fewer host weeks needed during those months. We are hoping that many of you will schedule your host weeks at another time of year. There is always a need for hosting clients in the summer months.


There are many additional ways to participate and support our local mission. Our other programs include: the CARITAS Furniture Bank, CARITAS Works (career readiness programs offer many great ways to get to know us even better), and The Healing Place, our new 12-step residential recovery program.

• You, and anyone from your congregation, are invited to visit us, attend our uplifting Morning Motivations session at 8:45 am M-F or come to New Volunteer Orientation any Wednesday at 1pm.

• Furniture/Household Essential Drives are perfect ways to help us keep our shelves full and ready to serve our 80 families each month.

• A furniture build or a men’s clothing drive are good opportunities for your youth group or Sunday school class.

• Your financial support allows us to provide help across our programs where it’s needed the most.

Moving people from Shelter to Stability is not a band aid quick fix but a long-term effort to address a community crisis. Working together we can help solve this problem. Your ongoing support is a vital part of that solution.

Trust us to continue to bring you this important mission work. As the largest homeless services program in the area, we understand the problem, work closely with other agencies to leverage our resources and will always need your help to assist our most vulnerable.

Our doors at 1125 E. Commerce Road are open, and we are ready to engage you in purpose that transforms lives right here in our community. Thank you for your continued support, and please let me know if you have questions. I can be reached at 804-343-5008 x424 or sdrescher@caritasva.org

KOH2RVA: Day 101

hugYesterday—Day 100 of KOH2RVA—we had at least 100 guests at the Ralph Anderson Memorial Christmas Breakfast for the Homeless in the dining hall at First Baptist Church, and that’s not counting Santa Claus.

I remember Ralph.  I used to see him in Community Missions on Wednesday mornings, taking down the names of our homeless guests and helping them check their bags so they could get a shower.  He loved that job.  He loved those people.  Shortly before he died he established a small endowment that would produce enough income to put on one big breakfast a year and yesterday that’s what we had—one big breakfast.

I watched as our guests filed into the room past a uniformed police officer and took their places at the tables.  They seemed eager, excited, their eyes shining in a way I rarely see on those other, ordinary days.

When it was time for the blessing I took the microphone and said, “Before I pray, let me say a personal word of welcome.  I’m really glad that you’re here.  And I want you to know that these volunteers who have come to serve you breakfast this morning have come because they love you.  They don’t refer to you as ‘clients’: they call you ‘neighbors,’ and ‘family,’ and ‘friends.’”

And then I prayed, saying something like, “Lord Jesus, you didn’t have a house.  You said so yourself.  You said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’  But if you did have a house I believe you would want to throw open the doors to these, your brothers and sisters.  And on a day like today I believe you would want to serve them breakfast.  And so, we’re going to do that for you, and we ask you to bless it, and them, and us, in your name.  Amen.”

And then the breakfast began, and it was wonderful.

I sat at a table and talked and laughed with the men who were there.  But eventually the talk came around to what happened in Connecticut last Friday, that terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The shock and disgust registered on their faces.  One of them said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

It seemed ironic; I had just heard that a mother had decided not to bring her children to our weekday school that morning because “all those homeless people” were milling around outside the doors, waiting for breakfast.  She was nervous after what happened in Connecticut last week.  A lot of parents were.  And even though she is thankful we have a ministry to the homeless she just couldn’t bring herself to drop off her children while they were there.

I wish she could have seen the look on this man’s face as he said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

Someday, when heaven comes to earth, that man and her children will be best friends.  They will get out of the car at school and come running across the parking lot, giggling, and calling his name.  And he will scoop them up in his arms with a big smile, and carry them to their classrooms like a guardian angel, looking back only long enough to reassure their mother as she waves and blows kisses.

Until that day comes, we’ve got work to do.

KOH2RVA: Day 85

Bake and Take2I went to Richmond’s First Baptist Church yesterday for the International Missions Prayer Breakfast, and to hear missionary Ann Lovell speak about her ministry among women working in the sex trade in Thailand. What I loved about her presentation was the simplicity of it: how one thing simply led to another and then another.

It started when she began to drive through the red-light district in Chiang Mai and pray that the brothels and massage parlors there would be closed down, but then her heart was broken by the plight of the women themselves, and she began to feel led to talk to them and pray with them. She found a brave friend or two to go with her and soon she was striking up conversations with prostitutes on the streets, asking them about their lives, and offering the possibility of another kind of life altogether—the abundant life found in Jesus.

The work has been slow, the results have been small, and yet you could see the joy on her face, you could hear it in her voice, as she talked about the lives that have been changed dramatically through her efforts and the help of the Holy Spirit.

When I came out of the Dining Hall I bumped into seven or eight of our members coming out of the Adams Room pushing a cart full of cookies. It was the “Bake and Take” group, which is exactly what it sounds like: a group of people who bake cookies and then take them to nearby homes in a little bag they hang on the doorknob with a friendly message from First Baptist Church inside. It’s not really evangelism; just a “sweet” way of loving our neighbors.

And as I walked across the parking lot to my car I saw Rick and Kim Peters unloading the food they had cooked for our homeless neighbors the night before, getting ready to serve it up for lunch in our Community Missions suite on the basement level. If you haven’t seen the video about their ministry you should see it now by clicking HERE.

I drove away from First Baptist yesterday thinking I had been in a beehive of mission activity, from learning about this ministry in Thailand, to loving our neighbors here in the Fan, to feeding the hungry and homeless among us, First Baptist was busy!

And I couldn’t have been prouder.

This year-long, every-member mission trip is gaining momentum, and there are some days, like yesterday, when the Kingdom comes as God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Guest Blogger: Richie Hilbert

Here’s a story submitted by Richie Hilbert, a member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and one of the most reliable sources of cheerful spiritual energy on the planet.  When she told me about something that had happened in our homeless ministry a few days ago I said, “I love it.  I want you to write it up.  You can be my guest blogger.”  And so she did.  And so she is…


By all appearances it was to be a normal Monday morning at Community Missions, First Baptist Church.  Joy, fellowship, and service always define the interaction between guests, staff, and volunteers; January 4, however, we had an encounter with One who is always in attendance, but especially evident on this day – the Holy Spirit. 

It began with what I will call an experiment. Monday morning Community Missions has traditionally started with a short devotional by Phyllis McIntyre, followed by a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in unison.  This morning we asked if one of our guests would like to offer the closing prayer.  There were 3 who volunteered; one approached the front of the room.  As he began praying I could feel the emotions welling up inside of me, and I wasn’t alone. This was a homeless man praying on a 25 degree morning. He lifted us all up with thanks to God for the many blessings granted us and for walking side by side with us every minute of every day.  He prayed with gratitude that the Lord loves us that much. 

It was glorious.

There was more in store for us!  As it happened, this was also the first day Susan Stratton joined Community Missions to pray individually with any guest who desired such a personal experience.  Two men did.  As her prayer with the first drew to a close, Susan thought, “This precious soul might be interested to learn that my life is not perfect, that in fact I have cancer and am in a battle of my own.”  She inquired whether he would pray for her, and was subsequently prayed over in such a meaningful way that she was moved to tears.  How perceptive of Susan to ask; how beautiful of our guest to pray. 

A little while later, the second guest came to Susan for prayer support.  She offered up his petitions, following which he asked, touched by her words, “Do you see the gleam in my eye now?”  This guest received his clothes, food, etc., but before leaving the building found Susan again.  I looked over my shoulder to see this tall, portly man enveloping Susan’s petite little frame in an immense bear hug, uttering with a big smile on his face, “Thank you so much.”  

The Holy Spirit was hovering that morning, and it was a blessing to be a witness to it.  Heaven came to earth on January 4th, 2010, and earth was the better for it.

—Richie Hilbert

How to Stay Warm on a Cold Night

Snuggle_Buddies_by_DragonflyHeartSometimes everything just comes together.

It did this morning at community missions, down on the basement level of our building.  I try to go down there every Wednesday morning to greet our homeless neighbors and make them feel welcome.  I usually share a thought and say a prayer.  I don’t always know what my “thought” is going to be until it’s time to speak, but this morning everything came together. 

I was watching people come in from outside, shaking the rain off their caps and jackets.  I knew that it wouldn’t be long before they start to come in shivering from the cold.  So when Brenda Andrews announced (confidently) that I was going to share a good word I began to tell them about David.

For four weeks now on Tuesday nights I have been telling the story of King David out at Westminster Canterbury, the elegant retirement community on Westbrook Road.  This week I was talking about the end of David’s life and how, when he was an old man, he just couldn’t stay warm.  “He would go to bed at night and shiver beneath his blankets,” I said.  “His bones would ache with the cold, his knees would knock together, and no matter how many covers they piled on top of him he couldn’t get warm.”

I could see people nodding their heads; they’d had nights like that, except they hadn’t had a bed to sleep in and not nearly so many covers.

“You may have read in the Book of Ecclesiastes,” I said: “‘Two can stay warm under the same blanket, but how can one stay warm alone?'” (Ecc. 4:11). 

I’m not sure they had read it, but I could see that it made sense to everyone in the room.  “Yes, two can stay warm under the same blanket!”  Some of them smiled at memories they would have been embarrassed to share.

“So David’s advisors suggested that they find the prettiest girl in Israel and let her try to keep David warm at night.  This idea pleased the king (Oh, did it?), and so they held a national beauty contest, going through every village from Dan to Beersheba looking for the prettiest girl in the land.  They finally settled on Abishag the Shunnamite, and from that night on (although the Bible makes it clear that she had no “relations” with him), Abishag slept in David’s bed and kept him warm.”

I don’t think most of the people at community missions had heard that story before, though it’s right there in 1 Kings, chapter 1.  They smiled at the image of the old king finally warm at night, and some of them must have wondered how they would stay warm when the winter winds begin to blow.

“The thing I love about David,” I said, “is that he was so human, so real.  He had been a great warrior—a giant killer!—but he got to be an old man who couldn’t stay warm at night.  He loved God and wanted to please him but he also made some terrible mistakes along the way and had to beg for God’s forgiveness.  Still, he was remembered as the greatest king who ever lived in Israel, and his story gives me hope.”

“If God can use someone like David, he can use all of us, can’t he?”

And they nodded, they really did. 

“Of course he can!”


What, finally, shall we say?

homeless-streetsA great poem, shared with me by my friend Roberta Damon:

What, finally, shall we say
In the last moment
When we will be confronted
By the Unimaginable,
The One
Who could not be measured
or contained
In space or time
Who was Love

What shall we answer
When the question is asked
About our undeeds
In his name—
In the name of him
For whose sake we promised
To have courage
To abandon everything?

Shall we say
That we didn’t know—
That we couldn’t hear the clatter
Of hearts breaking—
Millions of them—
In lonely rooms, in alleys
     and prisons
And in bars?

Shall we explain
That we thought it mattered
That buildings were constructed
And maintained
In his honor—
That we were occupied
With the arrangements
Of hymns and prayers
And the proper, responsible way
Of doing things?

Shall we tell him
That we had to take care
Of the orderly definition
     of dogmas
So that there was no time
To listen to the
Of the little ones
Huddled in corners
Or the silent despair
Of those already beyond

Or, shall we say this, too:
That we were afraid—
That we were keeping busy
     with all this
To avoid confrontation
Wih the reality of his
Which would lead us to
That it was fear that
     kept us
Hiding in church pews
And in important boards
     and committees
When he went by?

                     —Ursula Solek


Bonus:  Take a look at these pictures and the accompanying story by Ryan Phillips, grandson of Irma Lee Hardie, one of our regular volunteers in Community Missions.

There’s a Hole in My Earthsuit!

spacesuitI went down to the basement level of First Baptist Church on Wednesday to greet the people who come for our shower ministry.  I try to do this every week, partly because I love the people and  partly because it keeps my ministry “real.”  Instead of visiting only with the sweet-smelling and freshly scrubbed Christians of First Baptist Church I get to spend some time visiting with people who are down on their luck and out on the streets. 

It was one of those people who was telling me on Wednesday that the bodies in which we live are only the temporary accommodation of our souls.  “Your body is like a house,” he said, “and the real you lives inside it.  Or maybe it’s more like a spacesuit…or an earthsuit!  Yeah, that’s it!” he said, slapping the table.  He seemed pleased at having coined a new word.

We talked about life inside the earthsuit for a while and as we did I couldn’t help thinking about his.  It looked like he had been wearing it for seventy years or more (or maybe he had only been wearing it for sixty hard years).  He had a long, white beard and dark glasses that made it impossible for me to see his eyes.  I’ve heard that eyes are the “window of the soul,” and I had a feeling that if he would take off those dark glasses I could catch a glimpse of the real him inside the suit.  But he kept the glasses on and kept on talking about his earthsuit.

When I saw him last week he was wearing a yarmulke.  I asked him about that and he told me it came from the gift shop at the Messianic Jewish synagogue just down the street.  He said the Hebrew letters on it spell out “Jesus is the Messiah.”  “I wouldn’t wear it if it didn’t say that,” he told me.  “And I wouldn’t wear a Muslim prayer cap.  I’m a Christian.  But I like to wear that yarmulke,” he said, lowering his voice, “because I have a little bald spot on top.”

“You don’t have a bald spot,” I said, grinning.  “Your earthsuit does!”  And somehow that made it easier, to think that it wasn’t really him who was getting older and balder, but only his “earthsuit” wearing out like everything else we own eventually does.  I wished him well, said goodbye, and then walked away with the slight limp I’d had since running the day before. 

I’m not sure what caused it…

Maybe I pulled a muscle in my earthsuit.