Advent UMC closes on third ‘bridge home’ for homeless families in Upstate

Purchases made possible thanks to church’s Christmas Miracle Mission

By Jessica Brodie

SIMPSONVILLE—Thanks to the generosity of one United Methodist congregation, another homeless family in the Upstate has a place to call home.

In April, Advent United Methodist Church closed on a third transitional bridge home, purchased with Homes of Hope and in partnership with GAIHN, the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. The bridge home is designed to be a respite as families transition between emergency shelters and a permanent home.

The Rev. Michael Turner, Advent’s senior pastor, said a family will be moving into the home within the next couple of weeks.

The purchase was made possible thanks to a leap of faith the congregation made during Christmastime 2014, when Turner challenged them to cut their Christmas spending in half, then give the other half to a new Christmas Miracle Mission offering to help homeless neighbors. Advent raised a whopping $265,000—15 times more than the church had contributed in the previous year’s Christmas offering. The congregation now has a vision of helping homeless families one house at a time.

Leigh Randall, director of student ministries and staff liaison to missions for Advent UMC, said the project illuminates what God does when His people take a step out in faith.

“The passion of the Advent family has been reignited,” Randall said. ”We have always been a church known for missions, but the renewed excitement from the results of the Christmas Miracle Mission has been felt throughout missions and ministry at Advent. When we dare to dream God-sized dreams, God shows up and shows out.”

The first bridge home is a four-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot house within walking distance of the church. The second home is a bit bigger and in the same neighborhood. In the short time since they purchased the first home, in May 2015, Advent has been able to house five families.

Families stay in the home up to 18 months while they strive to get their living situation under control, including seeking employment and saving up enough money to rent or buy a long-term home of their own.

“It has been remarkable to see how our entire congregation really grabbed hold of our Christmas Miracle Mission,” Turner said. ”Our business administrator told us that the largest single contribution was $5,000, which means to hit the $263,000 mark, we had to have widespread buy-in from our congregation. People were very excited about it then, and they remain excited to see how God is still multiplying their generosity to provide homes for homeless families. GAIHN in general, but the Christmas Miracle Mission in particular has allowed us to really ‘go deep’ with a few families and radically alter their trajectory and lives.”

‘A blessing’

The families who have lived in the homes call the project a blessing.

Henrietta Owens and her two children live in the Poppy Meadow home; they are the second family in this home.

“God is so amazing, isn’t He?” Owens said. “I find myself falling in love with Him more and more these days. But that is truly awesome about the housing. The GAIHN program is a great program for families who find themselves in need through certain situations that they may be facing. I thank God that it blessed me and my family at the time of our need, and I thank God for great men and women such as (those at Advent) who volunteered their time and blessed each family.”

Owens said she has learned a lot throughout the program and also shares a passion for helping people in need.

“My passion is to help victims of domestic violence,” Owens said. “I would love to one day put my nonprofit in place to be able to have (a similar bridge home) shelter in place for people who need this assistance.”

Kim Witt and three of her four children live in the Polo Drive home (her oldest son is a junior at the University of South Carolina); they are the third family living in this home.

Next steps

Turner said the Christmas Miracle Mission team is actively looking for more houses to buy and refurbish; they are also seeking property.

“We’d love to build some new houses, in partnership with Homes of Hope, and be able to create a small neighborhood,” Turner said. ”With this strategic partnership with GAIHN, Homes of Hope, and Advent, we believe that God will take our Christmas Miracle Mission offering of $263,000 and multiply that into eight to 10 bridge homes.

Randall said they are looking homes within a five-mile radius of the church, which will allow the church to be actively involved in the lives of those who live in the homes and, hopefully, the families who don’t currently have a church home may be involved in the life of faith at Advent.

For more information about Advent’s homeless ministry and their Christmas Miracle Mission, email Turner at [email protected], or contact Advent at 864-288-8217 or 2258 Woodruff Road, Simpsonville, SC 29681.

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