For the past 11 years, Lake Forest Church has partnered with the Urban Ministry Center of Charlotte as a host site for Room in the Inn, a ministry of comfort and refuge for our home-seeking neighbors. This season, LFC served as host on four occassions from December - March, providing a safe, warm and welcoming shelter for 12 men and women. Yet, more than a meal and a bed, we hope to provide our guests with the intangible gifts of respect, relationship and understanding.
Below is a reflection on serving with the ministry from Don Smyth. It's a reminder to us all that God has gifted each of us with the ability to show His love through us - in this case, just by opening a conversation.
I was one of the overnight hosts at February's Room in the Inn. I arrived around dinner time and said hello to Lake Forest people that I knew and introduced myself to some of the guests and a few others. I noticed one man sitting on a stool, away from everybody else with his hands in his coat pockets. He occasionally looked up to see the activity around the tables as the other guests were being served dinner. I worked my way around to him and introduced myself. I saw his nametag, Tom (not his real name), and engaged in some small talk. He wasn't interested and mumbled something but I couldn't understand him. His face was tanned, somewhat dirty, and his expression was just empty.
After dinner, we began our program as the guests sat in the couches around the fireplace. Tom was still sitting on his stool as I came back and stood next to him. He told me that he had an accident that caused him to have 2nd and 3rd degree burns over all of his arms and his chest. He had just gotten out of the hospital a couple of months ago. I noticed he had a Bible in his hand and he asked me if I ever read Psalm 88. I told him yes, I had read it but I didn't remember what it was about. He handed me the Bible and I opened it and read Psalm 88.
Wow, that was pretty direct and indicative of Tom's attitude. He explained that his wife had runoff with his twin brother and then, his brother hung himself. His ex-wife then accused him of sexually molesting their two children so he was thrown into prison with no means to defend himself. He was stuck in the justice system until his ex-wife's story was determined to be baseless, and then he had the burn accident. I found it difficult to say anything that was
I left for a minute and turned around to hear Tom reading Psalm 88 to the whole gathering around the fireplace.
LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
(Read the the entire Psalm here.)
A little while later, another Lake Forest ministry partner started talking with Tom. They continued to talk for some time, moving into the sanctuary as a movie got underway. After more than an hour, I checked and they were still talking in the back of the sanctuary. Later, as I was cleaning up and preparing for bed, they came back into the lobby, said a few more words, and went their separate ways.
As the guests were serving themselves breakfast the next morning, I saw Tom and said "Good Morning" to him. He replied, "It is!" His voice was markedly different. He continued, "I met someone last night and we had a long talk. I really needed that. I can't even remember the last time that someone wanted to talk to me. Someone actually cared enough to want to talk to me. It was good, really good."
I've thought about Tom and this story many times since then. That was Lake Forest just loving on someone for no other reason. That was good, really good.
Visit lakeforest.org/go/goforit to view opportunities where you can make a difference.