Tag: homeless

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — To hear Bruce Bachman tell it, he’s just a guy with a bell, a red apron and a heart to serve who gives a little of his time during the holiday season.

He’s just one of the thousands of volunteer bell ringers who keep alive a 127-year tradition that the Salvation Army traces to Capt. Joseph McFee, who set out a large, iron kettle in 1891 to collect funds for a Christmas dinner in San Francisco.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the change, bills and occasional large checks and gold coins that Americans drop into about 25,000 kettles from coast to coast amount to roughly $150 million, said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, the Salvation Army’s national community relations and development secretary.

Some bell ringers wish passers-by a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” and hope the kettle fills. But many others, like Bachman, have honed strategies and routines to make the most of the uncompensated work — for the Salvation Army and for all who come within earshot.

Just before 10 a.m. on a busy shopping day, the 61-year-old consulting engineer arrives at a Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store with a mailbox-sized stereo, a box of Christmas CDs and a plastic baggie full of hard candy.

“I bring the candy to suck on so I don’t have to drink as much water,” Bachman explains. He knows he won’t have time for meals or bathroom breaks, so he tries to be prepared (eating a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns ahead of time).

He’ll stand outside for eight hours and — as a mix of Bing Crosby, Mannheim Steamroller and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” tunes plays — invite customers to donate to the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign.

“God bless you!” he tells a woman who pulls money out of her purse. “You have a very merry Christmas!”

“Hello, cutie!” he says in his best Donald Duck voice as 3-year-old Jubilee Longoria approaches the kettle with a handful of coins.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.


Cold nights, warm hearts: Churches become homeless shelters

Cold nights, warm hearts: Churches become homeless shelters

From Idaho to Maryland, congregations open their doors to strangers in need of food and rest.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Each Friday night, a van picks up 15 homeless men in downtown Nashville, Tenn., and takes them to the Woodson Chapel Church of Christ for food, Bible study and rest.

Four to six weeks per year, the Dalton Gardens Church of Christ in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, rolls out mattresses and welcomes homeless parents and children to sleep in Sunday school classrooms.

On cold nights when regular homeless shelters fill up quickly, the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark., sets up bunk beds and cots and opens its doors.

Any given night, roughly 550,000 men, women and children in the United States lack a home to call their own, according to an annual federal report released this week.

“I was a stranger and you invited me in,” Jesus says in Matthew 25, talking about loving “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.”

Taking the Lord’s words to heart, a number of Churches of Christ across the nation regularly transform their buildings into temporary homeless shelters — often cooperating with nonprofits such as Room In The Inn and Family Promise, leaders told The Christian Chronicle.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the December 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

A church for the broken and hurting


A church for the broken and hurting (reporting from Fort Worth, Texas): In urban Fort Worth, a 123-year-old congregation enjoys a spiritual revival as it ministers to wounded souls. 

FORT WORTH, Texas — Some in the group have been sober for years. Others measure recovery in days, not weeks.

A few still smell like alcohol.

To measure the heartbeat of the Southside Church of Christ, go to the HOPE class.

HOPE — which stands for Heavenly Options for Pain and Emptiness — meets right after the Sunday morning worship assembly.

Part adult Bible study, part 12-step Christian recovery group, the class draws a ragtag collection of addicts, ex-convicts and street people — all focused on the healing power of Jesus Christ.

“When you go to the hospital, you don’t have to confess you have a disease, do you?” group leader Dan Leaf asks the more than 60 struggling souls. “The church is a hospital for sinners.”

His words inspire an enthusiastic round of clapping and amens.

“Falling down is not as bad as not getting up,” Leaf assures the group. “It doesn’t matter how many times we fall down — God is walking us home.”

This story appears in the May 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Under a bridge, come to the feast


Under a bridge, come to the feast (reporting from Tulsa, Okla.): Christians show love for the homeless by preparing meals, washing feet and praying.

TULSA, Okla. — Street people lying on the grass and perched inside concrete nooks watch as a long, yellow moving truck backs under a downtown bridge.

Interstate 244 rumbles with traffic overhead as men, women and children from the Park Plaza Church of Christ slide open the truck’s back door and pull down a metal ramp.

In less than 30 minutes, the visitors from a more affluent part of town unload and organize a hefty bundle of equipment and supplies: Frozen hamburger patties and fresh buns. Chairs and round tables for dining. Hygiene products such as lip balm, razors and deodorant. Donated seasonal clothing items. Even a popcorn maker.

The scene repeats itself each Thursday night as Christians from 15 minutes — and a world — away fire up an industrial-sized grill, arrange foot-washing and prayer stations and endeavor to connect with neighbors.

“We are down here in hopes of showing God’s love in action,” Anisa Jackson, one of the ministry founders, says in an orientation meeting with regular and first-time volunteers.

This story appears in the May 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Social justice vs. kingdom work


Social justice vs. kingdom work: At a national meeting of youth ministers, the key role of the local church is emphasized (reporting from Colorado Springs, Colo.). Second Front.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Love Jesus.

Tolerate the church.

At a time when Americans’ confidence in organized religion has hit a 40-year low, that mindset seems particularly prevalent among younger Christians.

At the recent National Conference on Youth Ministries, Scot McKnight — one of the keynote speakers — challenged what he described as the modern tendency to lift up social justice efforts as “kingdom work.”

“It’s like a tsunami, beginning to overtake the church, and the church is losing significance in local communities because Christians are devoted to changing the world through the political process,” said McKnight, a prominent evangelical New Testament scholar and popular blogger.

Showing compassion, feeding the homeless and working for peace are good causes, but kingdom work involves introducing people to Jesus and his church, McKnight told 285 youth ministers from Churches of Christ in 30 states.

Teens envision a church more pleasing to God: Young Christians tout meatier Bible study, deeper relationships and less judgmentalism. Page 1 lead.

A royal mocha, fit for a King: Two young Christians develop Purple Door Coffee as a means to serve the homeless (reporting from Denver). Currents.

After cancer fight, Karen Tryggestad ‘safe in the arms of Jesus.’ Inside Story.

Keeping millennials in the church. Editorial.

This post highlights my stories in the March 2013 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Homeless ministry feeds, bodies souls

Homeless ministry feeds bodies, souls: Hundreds find Jesus at River City (reporting from North Little Rock, Ark.). Page 1 lead.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Get right, church, and let’s go home …
You better get right, church, and let’s go home …

It’s a weekday morning, about 30 minutes before lunch, but the homeless men and women assembled in the River City Ministry dining room sing like it’s Sunday.

As the smell of donated fried chicken wafts from the kitchen, the ramshackle congregation turns from playing dominoes and flipping newspaper pages to praising the Lord.

During this daily devotional, these street people pray, read Scriptures, recite faith-based poetry, share personal testimonies and — of course — sing.

“You may fall. You may have some scars,” a transient tells his downtrodden peers, reflecting on Hebrews 12. “But get up and finish the race.”

Physical needs draw upward of 200 clients a day to the River City Ministry, which grew out of a Vacation Bible School organized by the Little Rock-area Levy Church of Christ at a subsidized housing project in 1989.

After crisis, ICOC growing again: A decade after ‘the roof caved in,’ the former Boston Movement changes its leadership structure and discipling approach as it refocuses on reaching the lost (reporting from San Antonio). Second Front.

‘No Arms, No Shoes … Still Serving’: Despite physical challenges, Chet McDoniel glorifies God and delivers an inspirational message of hope in Jesus (reporting from Orlando, Fla.). National.

In land of Disney, workshop boosts church ties, unity (reporting from Orlando, Fla.). Inside Story.

This post highlights my stories in the September 2012 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Washington Times: Death among homeless inspires soul-searching

Washington Times: Death among homeless inspires soul-searching

Page 1-A. Published Oct. 29, 2009.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For The Washington Times

EDMOND, Okla. | Sunlight through a tall stained-glass window reflected off a donated casket as 350 people came to pay tribute to Dwite Morgan’s 54 years on earth.

To hear First Christian Church senior pastor Chris Shorow tell it, Mr. Morgan was a fixture in this affluent Oklahoma City suburb — a man with a life worth celebrating. Even if he was homeless and frequented the church’s free-breakfast program.

Better known in this community of 80,000 as “Bicycle Bob,” Mr. Morgan spent much of the last 25 years sleeping under the stars — the same place where police found him stabbed and beaten to death Oct. 18.

Across the nation, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless people whose faces and names are well-known to church leaders — yet those people, like Mr. Morgan, remain on the streets.

“The church is like a billboard, advertising compassion and loving service. So often, they are the ones whose doorbells ring for help,” said Charles Strobel, founding director of Room in the Inn, a Nashville, Tenn., program that feeds and houses the homeless in churches and synagogues during the winter.

“Most of the time, if help is given, it’s direct emergency services of food, clothing, perhaps shelter and some transportation,” said Mr. Strobel, a former Catholic priest.

However, many churches and religious groups seem less eager to confront the more difficult challenge, he said: Social action to bring about real changes and create affordable housing for the poor.

“Until those changes occur,” Mr. Strobel said, “people remain on the streets, even to the point of becoming a familiar part of the church family.”

A similar situation confronted Jeannette Smith, 66, a homeless woman who slept outside an Atlanta church for more than a year — the same place where police found her fatally shot Oct. 12.

The West End Church of Christ in Atlanta helped organize a funeral service and offered a $1,000 reward for information about Ms. Smith’s death.

“She didn’t bother anybody, just kept to herself,” church secretary Gayron Johnson said of Ms. Smith, who went from church to church for more than four years and kept her blankets and sparse belongings in a buggy the size of a grocery cart. “What I saw in her was a meek and quiet spirit.”

Members at the West End church frequently gave Ms. Smith food and money and encouraged her to go to a shelter, but she wouldn’t do it, Mrs. Johnson said. Ms. Smith preferred to sleep on her own. She told members that people were mean to her at the shelter.

“We all wanted to see her off the street and somewhere warm and inside,” Mrs. Johnson said. “But she’d be right there the next morning when I came to the church.”

But advocates for the homeless say no one really chooses to live on the streets.

Typically, those homeless for more than a year suffer from an untreated mental illness, a substance-abuse problem or a combination of the two, said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington.

A homeless man who “chooses” to live on the street may really be saying that he’s addicted to drinking and can’t accept another living arrangement if he can’t have his booze, Mr. Donovan said. Or a homeless woman who refuses to go to a shelter may be saying that she got robbed, raped or assaulted there and is afraid to go back.

In a number of cities, a “housing first” approach to caring for the homeless has seen positive results in recent years, Mr. Donovan said.

Rather than ask a homeless person to get clean and sober — or receive mental health treatment — before receiving a permanent home, this approach offers housing first and deals with the underlying personal issues later.

“What we have found is, if you’re interested in getting someone to leave homelessness, then you have to do it on their terms,” said Sam Tsemberis, founder of Pathways to Housing, which has helped find homes for more than 1,000 chronically homeless people in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

“It’s a slow road to recovery, but it’s a quick road to ending homelessness,” Mr. Tsemberis said of finding homes first and dealing with the mental health and substance-abuse issues afterward.

Earlier this month, a study released by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles indicated that the city could save $20,000 a year per homeless person by placing those on the streets into permanent supportive housing.

University of Southern California researchers studied the costs of caring for four Los Angeles men before and after they got homes. Expenses calculated included emergency-room visits, jail time, alcohol- and drug-abuse services and mental health treatment.

Here in Edmond, at Mr. Morgan’s funeral, a well-dressed congregation — most of whom did not know the real name of “Bicycle Bob” — sang “Amazing Grace.” Women dabbed their eyes with tissues. A few autumn-colored floral arrangements and a battered, beige bicycle painted a picture few had studied for long until this day.

In the days since Mr. Morgan’s death, his life circumstances and violent death have prompted a mix of sadness and self-awareness in a suburban community known for its super-sized churches, grocery stores and youth sports complexes.

Church and community leaders paint a portrait of a friendly, mentally ill man who liked riding his bike all over town and sleeping outdoors — from a chicken coop at his late grandmother’s house to an alley behind a feed and garden store where his body was found.

“I bought him a meal or two, a few cups of coffee. I like to think I did my part,” said David Hartman, one of hundreds of residents who helped Mr. Morgan in one way or another.

“And yet at the end of Dwite’s day, he still died a homeless, familyless man,” Mr. Hartman added. “Lots of people did something. No one did enough.”