From the pages of Scripture to the pens of poets and hymnwriters flow descriptions of Jesus as the Friend par excellence. He is the “Friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) and a “Friend for sinners…saving, helping, keeping, loving…with me to the end.” How many countless Christians have been strengthened for over a century by remembering “what a friend we have in Jesus”?
Follow Him through the gospels and see His example of friendship, marked by sacrificial love. Costly love. Inconvenient love. Selfless love. Unconditional love. Never-failing love. Redeeming love. Grace-laced love.
The Mission’s Outreach Program seeks to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, meeting people where they are and coming alongside them in friendship, as He did. What does this look like on a daily basis? According to Outreach Coordinator Teri Kwiatek, it looks like caring, teaching, helping, listening, connecting, and loving just as Jesus would. “The most important thing I’ve learned about reaching out to people is that I simply need to be present and available,” says Teri.
“Since COVID arrived, our availability at the Mission looks different,” she continues. “For example, prior to COVID our dining hall was the center of activity for Outreach each day.” Teri and a team of committed volunteers ate lunch with the guests, while looking for ways to meet their needs. These needs might be spiritual, physical, or emotional, but the friendships formed “at the tables” provided the means to either meet these needs directly or to connect guests to local resources.
The dining hall remains closed as of this writing, due to COVID restrictions. “So, we look for other ways to reach out in friendship to our neighbors in need,” explains Teri. And there is no end to the need she encounters. For example, Tommy is a longtime friend and guest of the Mission who has experienced widely varying needs over the years. When he was a child, his family used to make a trip to Hanover, Pennsylvania every Saturday to purchase large cans of vegetables to donate to the Mission.
Now, years later, he is the grateful recipient of Mission ministries, such as the meals served from the George L. Shields Bread of Life Kitchen and the clothing items provided by Rescued Treasures. “If you need help, that’s the place to go,” says Tommy. “There’s not one thing they won’t help you with, from prayer to a shirt on your back or a pair of shoes. They go all out.”
Last year, Tommy was diagnosed with cancer. Knowing he could not manage the side effects from chemotherapy while living in a garage, he moved into a local shelter. Between COVID and Tommy’s illness, Tommy cannot come to the Mission at this time. But Teri reaches out by calling him each week to check in on him. “I love knowing that the Mission can still provide two meals a day for Tommy while he is staying at the shelter. It’s another way for us to reach out and connect with him,” says Teri. Also, Tommy was recently able to attend Downtown Christian Fellowship, a church founded by the late Pastor Gary Hicks. Pastor Hicks was a friend to Tommy for many years, and he misses him terribly. He fondly recalls serving on local mission trips with Pastor Hicks through Brook Hill United Methodist Church. It was a joy for him to attend Downtown Christian Fellowship for the first time and to experience the legacy of love and friendship left by Pastor Hicks. Teri provided transportation to and from the service for Tommy, who was thrilled to share his testimony with the congregation.
Through all the challenges of Tommy’s life, he says that God never gave up on him. “He has been with me through all the storms and hard-times. I could always count on Him. He has my back. He has me, no matter what – now that’s a friend,” he says. And knowing how much God loves him stirs Tommy’s love for God. “When I needed him, when I was down and out, He always picked me up and carried me. I never want to leave or forsake Him for one second.”
Tommy still has medical challenges to face in the coming days. But he rests securely in Jesus’s love for him, knowing that there is “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). He trusts Jesus with his life here and in eternity because Jesus gave His life to save His friends. Tommy feels His loving care through the kindness of those who are helping him walk through this physical trial.
And Tommy seeks to demonstrate God’s love, even amid his physical struggles. He was recently admitted to the hospital’s ICU because of complications following chemotherapy. While he was there, he had the opportunity to pray with several other patients and the nursing staff. His impact of kindness was so deep, that the nurses gathered to say goodbye to him when he was discharged. Tommy is grateful that God used him to encourage his ICU friends.
A strong cord of friendship is woven throughout Tommy’s story. It includes the Mission, local organizations and churches, Pastor Gary Hicks, and countless individuals who have been present and available for Tommy during every chapter in his life. And Tommy wants to remain available to those God brings into his life, who likewise need a friend.
The Mission’s Outreach Program encourages and supports those we serve by building relationships, offering engaging activities, and ministering Christ’s love. These programs include our Summer Enrichment Camp, Bible studies, support groups, haircuts, hot showers, backpacks with school supplies, holiday events, emergency toiletries, and so much more. And, as we work to meet the needs of each guest, we pray that they will see God’s love and friendship through these efforts, knowing that “God’s kindness leads us to repentance” (Roman 2:4). This is how lives are changed now and for eternity.