At the heart of the story of the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and find there is no room for them at the Inn. On the very night of the birth of our Lord and Savior, there was no room for his parents.
Of course you know the story.
The loving heart of the Inn Keeper wouldn’t let him slam the door in the family’s face. He found space for them in a very quiet and private area in the stable in the back of the Inn. And there came the birth that stopped time and changed our world forever.
The same challenge is faced by families in our community on an almost daily basis. When a family has reached the end of their economic “rope” and they find themselves homeless, where do they turn?
There is a group in our community led by the Rev. Clara Lett that fills the roll of the innkeeper for about 50 people a night. Referred by churches and by police officials, people come seeking a safe place to stay. From the security of the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter they can start their journey back to a more normal life.
For more than 15 years, working together under Pastor Lett’s leadership and a dedicated board, the shelter has been providing a safe, drug free temporary home for over 23,000 that have passed through the shelter. While at the shelter they find access to financial, educational, and healthcare assistance. More than 15 percent of those who have found emergency shelter have moved on to more permanent housing for themselves.
Sure we would like to see this number higher. The good news is that this rate means in the past fifteen years almost 4000 people have been lifted out of homelessness. To make this number even greater, ways are being found to provide greater access to earn a GED as well as help in finding a job. Counseling is provided to help those who face chronic mental and physical challenges. Many of those who come to the shelter are veterans. We must find a way to serve those who have served us.
Be honest with me, don’t most of us have the same feeling the ancient Inn Keeper must have had. I can see the problem, but what can I do? One good answer is to support the ministry of the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter out on Turner Lake Road. You can do this is a variety of ways.
Volunteers are needed to help in the work of the shelter. It operates with a very small paid staff and depends on volunteers for much of the ministry. Volunteers are needed now in the area of administration, preparing meals, and a van driver. Of course for insurance reasons the volunteer drivers must have a clean driving record as well as meet age requirements. You can reach Rev. Lett for more information about volunteer needs at email@example.com. Or stop by during business hours one morning and inquire as to what you might do to help.
Please do not bring people to stay at the shelter. The guest needs to be referred by a church or agency. The ministry seeks a long term solution to each person seeking help. Thus there are certain requirements to stay in the program. These include being free of all use of alcohol and illegal drugs.
This is for both the safety of the guest as well as the community.
What does a financial gift to the shelter mean? It might keep a young displaced family together. It might be the key to breaking them out of the cycle of poverty. It might be as simple as transportation for medical care, proper nutrition, or a secure place to get some much needed sleep. It might be as simple as a good hot shower. When one is living on the street, it may be the simplest of things that can make the difference.
This Christmas you can help make sure that there is “Room in the Inn” for those who are knocking on the doors of our community. Make room on your Christmas gift list for a generous gift to the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter. What we cannot do alone, we can do together. This is the only shelter in a six county area and for fifteen years it has been a beacon of hope. Let us make sure that “this beacon burns” brightly to those needing shelter.
You can send your gifts to the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter at 7133 Turner Lake Circle, Covington, GA, 30014. We thank all who have been generous supporters during the past fifteen years. We need to grow that support if we are to meet the challenges that are before us. Please join with me in making sure there is room “in the Inn” for those who need it in our community.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.