Unmistakably God

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Matthew 25: 35-36

Every weekday, Paul makes the same journey from Cedarville, through Xenia, to his job at Apex in Kettering.  Like many of us, the sights and sounds along the way are registered in his subconscious. We see the same people, hear the same sounds, stop at the same lights. But one chilly December morning was different. As he drove down Main St. in Xenia, Paul saw a sight he never noticed before, he heard the voice of his Savior, and he responded accordingly.  Out of the corner of his eye, Paul observed a man wrapped in a white blanket, sleeping on a hard and weather-exposed street bench. Jesus spoke. “Buy that man a cup of coffee and a sandwich and take it to him.” Just like that. Unmistakably God.  Paul’s original response was hesitant – “I will be late for work”.  “I never buy coffee.”  But Paul knew what he heard and he knew he must obey.  Little did he know what God was, and still is, up to in Xenia!

After a trip to McDonald’s, Paul returned to the bench and gently knocked on it to awaken the tightly bundled man.  When the man awoke, Paul did as God asked and offered the quiet, reserved gentleman the coffee and sandwich, which was gratefully received.  Paul instinctively knew serving this man was just a beginning, and told his new friend that, if he were on the bench the following morning, he would return with a similar gift. Snow fell that night, but “Bob” (not his real name) was on the bench and ready to receive the gift Paul brought him.  Paul learned that often the homeless will spend an entire day on a bench before a storm to protect it from the rain and snow that will soak through blankets and clothing, in hopes of a dry place beneath them.

Paul quickly realized that Bob is not alone.    Knowing that in scripture Jesus calls us all to love our neighbors as ourselves, to care for widows and orphans, and to serve others solely because they are, at the very least, a masterpiece created in His image, Paul went to work.

The saga that began with coffee and a sandwich led to inquiries throughout Xenia.  Paul asked, “Who cares for the homeless here?”  “Who feeds them?” “Is there shelter?”  “What about clothing?”. “Who is loving these people?”  He quickly discovered that, even though over 163,000 people reside in Greene County, there is not a single homeless shelter! Through further investigation, Paul learned  of a local chiropractor who collects coats for the homeless in the area.  Paul wasted no time in visiting the man and learning that every Saturday a woman named Carol shows up behind McDonalds with hot food and drinks for the homeless and struggling; sharing the love of Jesus with them not only in word, but in deed.

Guess who joined Carol the following Saturday?  Realizing Paul was an answer to prayer, Carol responded to him, speaking of desperately needed help. Carol invited Paul to come alongside her efforts to serve the homeless.  She shared that, in Xenia alone, over 80 people live in tents or on the street and many more may have shelter, but are unable to afford utilities, food, or basic necessities.  To Paul, the need seemed overwhelming, but he knew he was being called and where God guides, God provides.   After all, in the Bible, Jesus had no problem feeding 5,000 people with just one loaf of bread and a few fish!  

Paul’s mission continued. At Christmas, he wore his Santa suit and brought gifts to One Bistro, an outreach of Apex Xenia that provides meals in exchange for work.  And then, having gained trust enough in the homeless community to be invited to their “tent city”, he trudged across a desolate field wearing his Santa suit to deliver gifts, encouragement, food, buddy heaters, coats, socks, wagons, bicycles, and, of course, the love of Jesus.  

On Saturday mornings, you will inevitably find Paul behind McDonalds in Xenia, faithfully serving alongside Carol.   Rather than assuming what the visitors need, Paul and his growing team ask them what they need. The needs are great, but the vision is greater!  With donations coming in, Paul dreams of a mobile outreach that includes a large trailer with storage for off-season donations, an overflow of items truly needed, and a central location for housing, rehabilitation, service, and outreach.  Because many homeless people are unable to acquire work because of their lack of address, missing documents, or ex-convict status, a central location would help bring people to independence and match them with employers willing to give them a chance would be beneficial. Because of the love for these people, men are being saved, getting baptized, and sharing the gospel with others.  

Paul embodies the principle author, Ann Voskamp, shares in The Broken Way, “You are where you are to help others where they are.  This isn’t a Christian’s sideline hobby; compassion is our complete vocation.  We do not just care about people; caring is our calling…God forbid, you don’t get a roof over your head and food on your table because you deserve more, but so you can serve more.”

As Paul prays for workers and resources (Matthew 9:37-38), he offers you the opportunity to come alongside him.  To learn more about loving on the people in Xenia, contact Paul at paul.cope@apexcommunity.org Each of us can hear Jesus, just as Paul did, calling us to be His hands and feet in the world in which we live. We only need to listen and obey.   

A Reflection

When you had a “Unmistakingly God” moment, how did you respond? Take the next few minutes and ask for God to speak clearly to you, specifically about how you can love on your city and its vulnerable citizens.

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