On December 25 people around the world will celebrate Christmas. Many people of the Christian faith will go to cathedrals and chapels to reflect on the birth of Jesus and celebrate “God with us.” It’s portrayed to be a peace-filled and joy-filled time we share with family and friends. Sometimes,though, when we’re facing tough times alone and the future seems bleak, we can wonder: Is God really with me? Does anyone really care?
When we’ve hit rock bottom and don’t see the path forward, we need to encounter someone who truly knows us and cares about us. For many of ANEW’s guests, one of our evening volunteers, Jill Vespa, is that someone. Every Wednesday evening she comes to ANEW after a busy day as a realtor for what guests refer to as "game night." Over dinner and games of cards, Jill listens to their stories and shares some of her own. In her free time, she advocates for guests looking for jobs and apartments, often checking in to see how they're doing. She’s there to celebrate their highs and encourage during their lows. Many times after someone is facing discouragement or has messed up (again), they will come to Jill simply because they know she cares. Jill is a picture to our guests of what author Timothy Keller describes:
To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known but not loved isour greatest fear. To be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self righteousness. It fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.
Jill’s persistent presence is a reminder: God is with them. God is for them. Their story is not over. This Christmas, whether you’ve delivered a meal, made a donation, or taken time for a conversation, thank you for showing our guests they matter, they are not alone, and their story is not over.
On behalf of our staff, board, volunteers, and guests, we hope you enjoy a joy-filled Christmas and holiday season!
Every once in a while you meet a kind-hearted person who makes you want to be that kind of person yourself. Chuck is that guy. When Chuck arrived at ANEW Place in May of 2016, he'd experienced a tough few years losing his family home, living in his car and another shelter, while also seeking steady employment. He entered our ANEW Leaf transitional housing program almost a year ago, completed the requirements in 6 months, then had to wait, and wait some more due to a lack of both Section 8 vouchers and affordable housing options.
Through the victories and challenges, the one thing that has stayed consistent with Chuck is his kindness. Whether it’s offering to give other guests rides to important appointments and job opportunities, orienting a meal provider showing up for the first time, or sharing a word of encouragement to our staff, Chuck’s kindness often serves as a thermostat for the social temperature in ANEW's house at 89 North Street.
This next week will be bittersweet as we say goodbye to Chuck and celebrate him moving into a new Cathedral Square apartment. His patience paid off! I personally will miss grabbing a morning coffee in the kitchen as Chuck catches me up on the happenings around the house or a friendly reminder from Chuck as I leave each evening that what we do at ANEW matters. I will also be excited to see what path Chuck blazes as he’s free to explore his personal goals and dreams. Something tells me that wherever that path leads, people will encounter a heart of kindness.
"One thing we always strive to do here at ANEW Place is to let people know they matter no matter what their past is and that there is a path forward. We want to be a part of charting that path with them." Check out Jeff's new path and hear how his story has transformed! #ANEWpath
It’s easy living in modern American culture to get caught in “trickle-down” mentality. It’s rooted in the idea that if we can get the top 1-5-10% of society (whatever that means) to join our cause, then their influence will “trickle-down” to the rest of society. If we could only get the wealthiest, smartest, most talented, and influential people, then we could bring lasting change to our community and culture. As a person of faith, the paradox that I’m often challenged with is that God repeatedly chooses to use those whom our culture would deem ordinary or even less than ordinary.
A few years ago I was sitting on a stool at the front window of Uncommon Grounds Coffee & Tea on Church Street. I’d heard and noticed that there was a rapidly increasing number of drug addicted young people living on the streets and in shelters in our town. You didn’t have to read articles or know the stats, because you could see the evidence with your own eyes on the street. I saw a guy and girl walk in. They were tattooed and pierced, physically worn beyond their age, and appeared quite malnourished. Later that afternoon I was catching up with an old friend who’d experienced a great deal of brokenness in his life: a recovering alcoholic, functionally illiterate, and living on welfare. I’m embarrassed to admit this now but the overall feeling I had that day was pity. Pity that they were stuck and their situation was seemingly hopeless. As that feeling surged inside of me, a scripture I had read earlier that week also invaded my mind:
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
My feelings and thoughts were in a tug of war over these questions:
Did I believe these people mattered period?
Did I believe they could have a life of significance?
Did I believe they could become influencers in our own community?
Was I choosing to view them through the eyes of our culture or the eyes of God?
I wish I could say in my role at ANEW Place that this tug of war never resurfaces, but you and I know that wouldn’t be honest. It’s in these moments that I’m reminded of Jesus’ “bottom-up” approach to life and ministry where he consistently invited those on the fringe to follow him and then developed these unlikely followers as leaders in his movement. I’m also reminded this principle applies to me. I’m the less than ordinary person God has blessed with purpose and opportunity, and now God is allowing me to do his work with my homeless neighbors through ANEW. Every day I’m blessed to walk into a place where I get to invest in future community shapers and cultural influencers.
For a real life example of this in action take some time to read about what’s happening with Christopher.
When Christopher arrived at ANEW Place in March, he had spent the better part of a decade hopping trains, hitchhiking, and battling alcoholism. This lifestyle allowed him to live free of responsibilities where he could “enjoy” his addiction. After seeing many of his friends spiral and some even die, he realized that wasn't what he wanted for his life. Over these past few months Christopher has maintained his sobriety (the longest period in over 10 years!), began seeing a therapist to work through issues from his past, and started a job at Five Guys where he is now a shift manager.
A highlight of these past few months has been seeing Christopher reconnect with his family. His mom traveled to visit him and saw firsthand how her son is now in a place of stability, successfully maintaining sobriety, and taking concrete steps as he charts a path forward. For the first time in years he even treated her to dinner.
Just a few weeks ago Christopher entered our ANEW Leaf transitional housing program and is on track to move into his own place this winter. As Christopher continues moving forward and reconnects with his faith, he is beginning to dream of ministering to the homeless himself. We're betting this dream becomes reality and we're so honored to be part of his story!