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Eastdale Church takes in homelesscomment (0)

April 9, 2009

By Anna Swindle

When Eastdale Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association became interested in a new missions outreach, it wanted to keep things local. Family Promise, a Montgomery organization that helps homeless families gather resources and support, seemed to be worth a try.

“It’s been a great opportunity to do missions without leaving Montgomery,” said Lead Pastor Josh Lansford. “We needed a way to get involved in missions and this was right here.”

Family Promise is a way for homeless families to be connected to a community and try to get back on their feet. During their 30 days in the program, parents take part in job searches, as well as financial and emotional counseling, while their children are in school. 

“The church’s role is to be a place to stay at night and to be a comfortable place for them to fellowship,” Lansford said. The families stay at Eastdale for a week of the 30-day period.

Now Eastdale Baptist is planning its third week of Family Promise sponsorship and volunteer numbers are increasing as more church members express interest in the ministry.

Beth Ann Marra, executive director of Family Promise, said the organization’s ultimate desire is for families who don’t have a church home to find one. “Our volunteers, without ever having to say it, are truly the hands and feet of Christ. It’s a beautiful model of providing a very valuable service — the basic needs of life — during a very difficult time for a family.”

Initially recruiting volunteers was one of the most difficult aspects of the ministry, according to Zina Elston, a member of Eastdale and a key player in the church’s involvement with Family Promise. Part of the problem was overcoming preconceived notions attached to the homeless.

“A lot of people believe that these are problems people created themselves, but Family Promise really stresses that they don’t deal with people who are chronically homeless but situationally homeless,” Elston said. She added the ministry humanizes the word “homeless” for volunteers and once they help with it, they want to be a part of it again.

Since Eastdale’s first Family Promise outreach last November, Elston said she and her fellow planners have learned a few things. Before the next group of families comes to the church May 31–June 7, it will offer volunteer training to help people feel more prepared to contribute.

Volunteer Lori Deal pointed out that there are a number of ways to contribute from providing food and linens to praying for a family.

Not only do volunteers have the chance to bring comfort to families in their time of need but they are also able to share God’s love in a very real way.

“One of the women in the Family Promise program was Muslim, but she got to be loved and embraced by Christians,” Elston said. “I love the fact that they can come in and see who we really are.”

Lansford has enjoyed watching members of his congregation leave their comfort zones to reach out to members of the community. “Just to see the people get involved in some areas they weren’t familiar with was wonderful,” he said.

One of the main things Deal has learned from her involvement with Family Promise is that the people in the program are no different from anyone else — they have just run into tough life situations. “I guess you expect conversations with them to be different because they’re homeless but they’re not,” she said. “It really educates you about the plight of the homeless.”

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