You can find a copy of this story in the Dec. 23 edition of The Rockdale News, on stands now. For a list of where to find the News, click here or go to http://www.rockdalenews.com/section/19/article/4747/
It’s indeed a Blue Christmas for thousands of homeless across Atlanta, and that’s not a bad thing. On Saturday, Conyers First Baptist Church capped off a community-wide Christmas season campaign and delivered 17,491 pairs of jeans to 51 homeless shelters in the Atlanta area.
The Blue Christmas campaign began with an idea senior pastor Dr. Jeff Meyers had after speaking with friends from Dallas who worked with the homeless. Associate Pastor Duane Keil explained the value of the American wardrobe staple to the homeless community. “Jeans are durable and protect you from the elements,” he said.
It also capped off the church’s Project Freedom, Dave Ramsey’s 13-week Financial Peace University course instructing students on reducing and eliminating personal debt, as well as giving back to the community. “Living like no one else so you can give like no one else,” Keil said summing up their purpose. The 1,100 members participating in the course were able to pay off the incredible sum of $1,166,860 by the end of the course. Keil said Ramsey also emphasizes giving of time as well as money. Another amazing outcome of Project Freedom is $16,000 was raised to build eight homes in Nicaragua during a two-week church mission trip next summer. “We’re really excited about mobilizing our church and giving members an outlet for service,” said Keil.
Project coordinator for Blue Christmas and class member, Sherry Johnson, took the missive to heart spearheading the campaign that included over 30 drop-off locations. “The beauty of it was this community really did support us,” she said. Hundreds upon hundreds turned out to help with the mission and businesses, schools and other churches across the county and beyond had designated barrels to collect jeans.
Departing from the church Saturday morning in cars laden with blue jeans, the teams did much more than distribute the collection. Team leaders scheduled service projects at the shelters such as painting, cleaning and providing food. Johnson said many used this as a family project, and their children played kickball and did activities with the children at the shelters. The common theme Keil witnessed from the interactions was “breaking down walls and stereotypes. We felt more enriched and got a bigger blessing than those receiving blue jeans and food.”
Speaking with one homeless disabled vet whose hands were raw and swollen from the cold, Keil was struck by the man’s gratitude. “Until you start ministering to the homeless, you don’t really have an understanding of how hard it is to get off the street. There comes a time when they lose hope of getting off the street and just go into day-to-day survival mode,” he said. Lack of identification and address prevents many from receiving social security checks and renders them unhirable.
The day concluded with First Baptist’s choir and orchestra performing a concert in downtown Atlanta at Trinity UMC attended by over 400 of the homeless.
Building on this service momentum, Keil said their theme for 2011 is to “change the world starting here. We believe the people at First Baptist can really impact the world with who we are and the resources God has given us. We don’t have to sit idly by watching people suffer and struggle.” Plans are already in place to carry out this assignment.