It was my first big snow storm as leader of the churches’ homeless ministry. Naively, I assumed that my friends in need would be anxiously awaiting when the doors to the fellowship hall opened, offering round-the-clock shelter until the blizzard passed. With the weatherman calling for close to two feet of snow, I barely wanted to leave my own home. Much less could I imagine managing without one.
When the flakes started falling, my anxieties rose with each accumulated inch. Not even half of the people I expected to seek the safety and warmth of our pop-up-shelter had made it in. Did they not know we were open? Were they stuck somewhere? Was it a transportation issue?
I started making calls and eventually set out to put my 4 x 4 to good use.
When I found the crew I had been looking for, the snow was up to my knees and the path to and from the campsite could barely be deciphered. To be perfectly honest, it was snowing so hard I wasn’t quite sure that I could locate my own tracks by the time I headed back to my vehicle.
My street friends, however, were much more concerned with making sure the latest arctic blast didn’t claim what little hope they had left in the world.
The good news is I made it back to my car that afternoon and would live to see my homeless friends through far too many future snow storms.
The bad news: I learned that day about the humanity that dissipates and the survivalism that rises, when humans have no other option than making their home in the woods.
You don’t come inside when the only thing between a blizzard and all your worldly belongings are a couple of metal poles and square of canvas.
You stay behind with your campmates, hunker down, and take turns beating the snow off the tent while the other takes a nap.
Only when the snow stops after 36 hours and almost two feet, do you call the very worried director of Micah to to come get you.
While helping people meet basic needs and, frankly, survive, is not the favorite outcomes-based story, it is this moment in the snow that reminds me of how very important it is to come alongside our neighbors in need with the simplest of help. With that sentiment it is fair to say that the hearts of our homeless friends have been literally warmed by the people who have joined us in this mission.
It has come from the Rappahannock Community Services Board that stepped up years ago to offer permanent space for a winter shelter. It is found in the investment local governments making in providing the funds to make the cold weather shelter happen. It is seen in the faces of joyful volunteers who show up every winter to make beds, drive buses, pour coffee and watch football with those who would otherwise be outside on the winter’s frigid nights.
It is the hope that is found in the face of the tent and sleeping bag recipient when they realize not having a home doesn’t mean they can’t have some form of protection from the elements. It is the relief in the bodies of those who benefit from warm hats, gloves and sturdy jackets.
Sometimes the mission of keeping people from freezing to death is purely enough as we work toward a just, kind and humble community where all neighbors belong, participate, meet each others needs and engage in meaningful relationship. Meeting people where they are and in their darkest place of struggle is, of course, where such possibilities begin.