By Jessica Brodie
SIMPSONVILLE—Thanks to a massive outpouring of funds and support from Advent United Methodist Church, one homeless family now has a roof over their heads and a boost in the right direction.
On May 8, the family of seven—a mother, father and their five children, ages 9 months to 9 years—was able to move into a transitional “bridge home” that Advent purchased and renovated with Homes of Hope and in partnership with GAIHN, the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network.
The four-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot home is designed to be a respite for homeless families as they transition between emergency shelters and a permanent home. 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. Already, Advent pastor the Rev. Michael Turner said, the father has been able to find a job, and things are looking up.
And it’s all because of one congregation that took a leap of faith and raised $265,000 this past Christmas in the name of the Great Commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself.
‘What more does God have in store?’
Advent raised the $265,000 as part of the Christmas Miracle Mission Offering, a first-time initiative that challenged the church to cut their Christmas spending in half, then give the other half to the CMM offering. Turner intentionally set no financial goals for the CMM; he wanted his congregation’s giving to be Spirit-led and didn’t want to limit how big his flock could dream. The CMM took the place of their regular Christmas offering for the operating budget, which normally was about $18,000. To raise nearly 15 times that was staggering to Advent—and an indicator that helping homeless neighbors is something God clearly wants Advent to do.
Spurred on by the Spirit, Advent is now eager to do far more than the bridge house, particularly as the home’s purchase and renovation cost only a fraction of the total raised.
“It’s exciting to think about the impact we can have right here in our little neck of the woods,” Turner said. “It’s also humbling to see what God has done through our congregation and how God has used our generosity not just to help one family but families for decades from that one Christmas miracle offering. If God’s done this, what more does God have in store for Advent?”
Robert Lea, co-chair of the CMM team with Barry Zachary, said the whole project has been a true journey of experiencing God’s love, and he and the others feel fortunate to be a part of it.
“I don't think any of us had any idea we could have such an impact, starting with this effort all the way before Christmas to where we are today, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what we could do,” Lea said.
Co-chair Zachary said the experience has been an inspiration to him, one that especially hit home when he first laid eyes on the family.
“This is a husband and wife with five children ages 9 months to 9 years—a respectable, nice-looking family—and they found themselves homeless, and then all of a sudden they find themselves so grateful to be moving into what most of us would consider a very small home, that’s really when it struck me,” Zachary said. “There are so many folks, and who knows who they are, who are one small catastrophe away from being homeless. This home is one step of providing a hand up to families who never thought they’d be homeless.”
The bridge home project happened rather quickly; with GAIHN and Homes of Hope, Advent found and purchased the home, then got a team together to tackle renovation.
Homes of Hope is Advent’s partner in owning the home, while GAIHN serves as a clearinghouse and facilitator for the families who will occupy it. GAIHN identifies and works with the family, both in establishing them in the home and helping them find employment and get on their feet in other ways.
Advent members spent about a week and a half doing some minor improvements to make the Greenville-area house more livable and comfortable for the family: painting, landscaping, swapping out a folding door to the bathroom for a standard door, repairing the heating and air unit, etc.
Leigh Randall, Advent’s director of student ministries and staff missions liaison, coordinated student and adult volunteers for the renovations and said it has been heartening to see church members work together, many getting to know each other for the first time. Advent has three church services every weekend, each very different from the other, and she got to see firsthand how the church family came together united in a cause to help their homeless neighbors.
“We had middle-schoolers all the way through people in their 80s who worked side by side to make this happen,” Randall said, noting each of the volunteers seemed to come away with their hearts changed in new and better ways for God.
She recounted how one 22-year-old college student was asked on a whim to help move furniture, and after spending the day on-site, that evening he shared, through tears, how excited the homeless father was about moving his family into the bridge house, how carefully the family tended to each piece of their extremely worn furniture. That student now wants to do more for the homeless.
“None of us ever thought there would be a response quite like there was from our congregation, so we’re overwhelmed in an incredible way,” Randall said.
When the work was complete, Advent did a blessing and dedication of the home at the church rather than on-site in order to protect the family’s privacy, Turner said.
With the bridge home behind them, Advent is now dreaming about what to do with the rest of the funds. They plan to buy and renovate another house, possibly by the end of the summer, and their CMM team is also looking at a plot of land they hope to acquire with Homes of Hope, where they would build some new-construction house both to serve as bridge homes and as inexpensive permanent homes for formerly homeless families to purchase as their own.
“That all along has been a dream for us: to have a whole little neighborhood,” Turner said. “That would be incredible.”
Zachary said he’s particularly grateful Advent has a pastor who wasn’t afraid to shy away from a God-sized mission for the church. He said Turner had a clear vision and passion for what he wanted to see happen with the project, and when Turner communicated that to the church, no one could seem to quell their eagerness to help.
“The thing I’ve tried to remember is this is not about Advent,” Zachary said. “It’s about GAIHN and about providing a hand up for homeless families. It’s kind of easy to get caught up with, ‘Look what Advent did,’ as opposed to what happened: ‘Look what God did and look what GAIHN is able to provide for years to come,’” Zachary said. “And none of this would have happened without Michael’s vision. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
For more information on the CMM, or to talk to Turner about helping, email him at [email protected], or contact Advent at 864-288-8217 or 2258 Woodruff Road, Simpsonville, SC 29681.
By Jessica Brodie