We hear a lot of stories these days about hatred, violence, destruction, death. I am loathe to turn on the news because it is chock full of these things and utterly depressing. It often feels like we are living a lost cause and that the good has fled from the hearts of all humanity.
The thing is, there is so much kindness, love, joy, and compassion around us to be marveled, but the media has drowned it out with the other, more sellable, side of society. We are force fed the ugly and are starved of the beauty. We are pelted with the hatred but are never wrapped in the love.
I strive to do something different – to share with you some of the stories of the incredible capacity of the human heart to love fiercely. There is still great beauty in this world. There is still hope to be found. We need only open our eyes and hearts and seek it.
Today, I want to share with you one such story – a story of people, communities, churches, businesses, and organizations coming together to love a group of people that are all to often deemed unloveable or worthless by the whole of society – the homeless.
But this week something incredible happened, something the media will never show you, something that highlights the capacity of the human heart to reach outside itself and love strangers fiercely.
And it’s all because of some blankets…and Jesus.
Individually, we cannot change or eradicate all of the pain of this world, but together we can make a difference. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. This is a story about how we can change the world…together.
Lovelady and Crockett, TX. I am willing to bet most of you have no idea where they are.
To be perfectly honest, neither had I until approximately four hours ago when that all changed. That’s when they careened across my radar and I fell head-over-heels in love with them all, every single one.
Let me take a moment to introduce you to Lovelady and Crockett, because I think it is hugely important to understand the semantics of who they are in order to truly appreciate the heart of this story. So here goes.
Lovelady is, for all intensive purposes, a spit in the road – a teeny-tiny, close-knit town comprised of only 621 people (US Census Bureau, 2016) which are distributed among 293 households or 175 families. On any given Sunday, there are more people sitting in the pews of an average-sized Houston church than live in the entirety of their little town. I say this with the greatest love, because I live in exactly such a place, and I adore these kinds of communities. They are wholly sweet and maintain a quaintness and sweetness that has slowly disappeared from the rest of our world.
There’s not a whole lot of ‘excitement’ going on in Lovelady, and most travelers don’t even realize they have passed through the town when driving down Highway 19, on to bigger and better places. Rumor has it, however, that on a Saturday night, some good ol’ country music will be cranking from the old high school gymnasium and the locals will be gathered to fellowship and enjoy life together. The median income for a household in the city is $30,000, with 11.6% of the population falling below the poverty line (and a great many living just above). (Wikipedia/US Census Bureau)
Crockett is their ‘big city’ neighbor located 16 miles up the road and sports a slightly bigger population of a whopping 6,544 people (or only 1700 families) with a median household income of $21,455 and 33.9% of the population falling below the poverty line. So why does this all matter?
Because of some blankets, that’s why. But let me back up just a moment.
My name is Angelia. When I’m not penning books or blogs, I am the liaison between a fantastic ministry called Hope Beyond Bridges and an equally fantastic church plant called Church Project North County. For ten consecutive years, the volunteers of Hope Beyond Bridges (HBB) have spent their Saturdays under the bridges and overpasses along the I-45 corridor of Houston, TX serving the homeless hot meals, friendship, and the Gospel of Jesus. In case that doesn’t hit home, that equals: over 500 consecutive Saturdays on the streets.
Most of us (uh…me!) can’t even stick with a diet and exercise regimen for more than two weeks straight; these guys have been hitting the streets and bringing light to darkness without falter for over a decade. And that doesn’t even include the work they are doing on the other six days per week. Pretty incredible stuff.
I am honored to be a [small] part of the ministry. At the end of October, my husband and I, along with our friend and HBB CEO (Dave Droll), stood on the stage of Church Project North County (CPN) with the pastor, Matt Rule, and made a plea for coats and blankets for the upcoming winter season. It takes somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 blankets per year to adequately meet the needs of the homeless along our routes. On a good year, they can be difficult to accrue; we knew that after the destruction of Harvey this past fall, it would prove even more challenging. Everyone in the greater Houston area has either lost everything, or given everything to those who lost everything. The staff and congregation of CPN have tirelessly dedicated themselves to helping us serve the homeless community of Houston well and were once again stepping up to help us fill a vital ministry need.
It just so happens that a man by the name of Tim Lowry was sitting among the congregation that morning. Tim and his family felt their hearts stirred for the plight of the homeless (I promise it was not because of my charming stage presence!) and realized that they wanted to make a difference. They decided to organize a coat and blanket drive of their own, completely unbeknownst to me!
As it turns out, Tim is the founder/owner of a small radio station called Joy 104.3 which was recently launched in May of 2017. Their goal is to be a ministry first and foremost – to “spread Joy and Love throughout our community by engaging with them in real relationships that show we really care about them.” Hands-on missional ministry? Yes, please. Believe me when I tell you these guys are already using their talents to change the world in huge ways, which I was about to find out firsthand.
And do you want to take a wild stab at where Joy 104.3 is located? Why, a little place called Lovelady, TX, that’s where.
So fast forward back to today. Tim dropped me an email and asked if I could meet him to receive ‘some’ blankets and coats he had helped collect for Hope Beyond Bridges. I was, as of yet, still completely unaware of any of the story or that he even had a radio station, but of course I eagerly agreed. We can always use a couple of more good blankets. At three o’clock sharp, he pulled up to CPN with a Suburban packed full of neatly bagged blankets and coats which had been donated by the good people of Lovelady and Crockett, TX, a a tiny community over an hour and a half away from CPN and two hours from our HBB service area.
When I say ‘packed,’ I mean that we nearly needed a crowbar to get those first bags out, it was so jammed full. We probably couldn’t have wedged a business card in there if we had wanted to. I was beyond blown away!
Let me just say here that it is generally exhausting and hard work to stir peoples hearts to action for a local cause, and yet here was an SUV loaded down to capacity with the tangible proof of action of hearts that were stirred in a place I had never heard of by people I had never met for a cause that they had no logical reason to know about, let alone support.
So how did this happen? And why? That’s what I was wondering!
As it turns out, Tim had taken it upon himself to locate Crockett First Assembly, an amazing little church in his listening area, whose pastor, Jeb Dotson, was willing to step up and shoulder the responsibility of collecting and organizing the requested items for our ministry. That is one small, hometown church with a one huge heart!
Then Tim proceeded to announce over his radio station, Joy 104.3, that they were doing a drive to collect blankets and coats for the homeless community of Houston! According to Tim, he didn’t really know what to expect. He hoped they could gather ten or or so items, but he felt [rightly] that it would give the fine people of this rural area an opportunity to serve Jesus by loving the homeless in a tangible way. And then the congregation of Crockett First Assembly and the surrounding communities happened.
We didn’t give them an opportunity to love like Jesus, but rather they taught us all a little something, something about what the love of Jesus looks like. Car after car after car began to arrive bringing blanket after blanket after blanket. We’re talking about a tiny community that lives barely over the poverty line themselves…yet they showed up!
Even more incredibly, they did it quietly, without seeking glory, almost secretly, coming together in one fell swoop to make a difference in the world and then humbly fading into the background leaving behind no names, no faces, no entities in their wake to be glorified except the name of Jesus. Believe me when I tell you I had to dig a little to get the story and the names of the people and churches involved just to share this article with you. There is something incredibly beautiful about it – something that exemplifies the heart of God.
This is Christmas.
This is church.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4
Today, as Tim and I unloaded a plethora of bags (yep, they even neatly bagged them for us…I mean, triple wow!) filled to the brim with precious blankets and coats, my heart was broken a thousand times over. This is the body of Christ. This is the hope of our world. This is what we are called to be.
I didn’t count the donations…there was no way! But I can tell you there just might have been more blankets and coats packed into that SUV than there are actual families in the town they came from. Oh, and did I mention that he couldn’t get it all in one trip, so he’s bringing the rest on Sunday?
Oh, my heart!
To every single part of the body: to the Lowry Family, to Joy 104.3, to Crockett First Assembly, to Church Project North, to the HBB volunteers who give of themselves week in and week out. and to every single beautiful, precious person of Lovelady and Crockett, TX who took the time to donate an item – THANK YOU.
You matter, and you have made a huge difference by your obedience to Christ. The world could learn a lot from you – in fact, I hope they do.
We spend so much time talking instead of doing. We spend so much time throwing out excuses like cheap candy in a parade. We have been duped into believing that we cannot make a difference in the brokenness. But we can! We each have an incomparably important part to play in the kingdom of God. When we do not step out in obedience, we hinder the good work.
But when we each obediently do our own small part – the good work Jesus has prepared for us to do – watch out world!
Here’s the true, magnificent story of the body of Christ seen gloriously in this obscured moment in a little town in Texas: Together we can make a difference! Many broken and lonely men and women will be wrapped in a warm blanket and the gospel of Christ this winter because a volunteer obediently handed him a warm blanket on the street…because innumerable individuals of a small town obediently brought their gifts of blankets and coats…because a pastor and his little church obediently opened their doors to accept the gifts…because a radio station owner obediently made an announcement to his community…because another small church plant obediently opened their stage to the mission of Jesus…because a family obediently became liaisons for the homeless…because a beautiful ministry obediently serves the homeless day in and day out…because a gentleman and his wife saw a homeless man one day in Houston ten years ago and obediently decided to make a difference in his life and the ultimately world by giving him love and the Gospel.
Breathtaking, isn’t it?
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12″41-44
Beautifully, Brokenly Yours,
Angelia J. Griffin