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Mobile’s Government Street ministers to homeless womencomment (0)

December 2, 2010

By Kathy Dean

As an adjunct professor of voice at the University of Mobile and professional musician, Melba Brown has sung in some of the most awe-inspiring places in the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But none of those performances was as gratifying as the one in the gym of Government Street Baptist Church, Mobile, where she sang “Amazing Grace,” led by church member Melissa Barnes and accompanied by 73 homeless women and her church family.

That moment was one of the highlights of Strong Enough, a friendship luncheon in October that involved more than 300 members of the Mobile Baptist Association church reaching out to the homeless community.

The idea for the luncheon was born this summer at the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla., when Brown and husband Charles, the church’s pastor, sat at a table with a staff member from First Baptist Church, Orlando, and heard about that congregation’s ministry to the homeless. It was the stories of loss, heartache and brokenness that touched her. She knew there were similar stories in her community, and she wanted to hear them. More than that, Brown wanted to bring God’s healing power to broken lives. It was a vision her church family embraced.

The women of Government Street Baptist decided to turn their annual luncheon retreat into a friendship luncheon that would share God’s love with homeless women. For four months, they worked passionately on the project, contacting area homeless agencies, gathering names of women in shelters and seeking donations of items ranging from toiletries to Bibles.

The women arranged for volunteers from beauty schools and hair salons to cut and style hair, students at a career college to give massages, nursing students to take blood pressure and do health screenings and cosmetologists and church volunteers to give facials. They gathered donated clothes, arranged for six restaurants to provide meals and took monetary donations to help with expenses. Then the women sent out the invitations.

Of the 150 women they invited from shelters in the heart of the city, 73 were transported to the church in west Mobile. About 250 Government Street Baptist women welcomed them with hugs.

Church members directed them to massage chairs, helped them select clothes from the clothes closet and gave manicures. Showers were available in the gym, with new towels, which the youth then took to the day care next door to launder and return to the women as a gift. Associate Pastor/Minister to Students Adam Pate coordinated a backyard Bible club for 10 homeless children and cared for nine preschoolers as their mothers enjoyed the spa day. Minister of Music Mark Barnes, who has a photography business, took portraits to be sent to the women at their shelters later.

When it was time for lunch, the guests were treated to a meal served by men of the church. They sat at tables decorated by the women’s group and set with fine china and silver.

“We wanted these women to feel just as special as our women do when they come and sit down at a beautiful table and a beautiful meal,” Brown said. Church members who were concerned about how to connect with the women had a set of questions they could ask around the table to get a conversation started. Inspire, the church’s interpretive movement group, performed.

Keynote speaker Mardwena Hall shared how a childhood of abuse made her susceptible to drug abuse, which led to homelessness; how the love of God and the support of people who love Him helped her regain control of her life; and how He was “strong enough.”

“The main thing I wanted them to know was that no matter what you have gone through or are going through, nothing is too hard for God,” said Hall, who is employed and no longer homeless. “I know what it’s like to want to do better so badly and then to believe it just will not happen for you, that there’s something so inherently wrong with you that you can’t be helped.”

But God can change that, she said.

“One of the things that a lot of (drug treatment) centers do is base your recovery on the Word of God,” Hall told the women. “I got enough Word in me while I was there and it took root. It made me want to do better. Then I found a church home where I could apply the Word in my life.”

At the end of the luncheon, two women gave their hearts to the Lord. But all of the women left loaded with gifts and the knowledge that the congregation would pray for their specific needs.

But the outreach wasn’t over.

The next Sunday, Brown drove to a downtown shelter and brought a couple to Sunday School. The following Sunday, the church sent a van to pick up more. Now the women of the church are looking for a room downtown where they can bring sack lunches and have a weekly Bible study for homeless women. Brown hopes other churches are inspired to start their own luncheons that illustrate how God is “strong enough.”

The luncheon already has inspired at least one person to get involved in ministering to the homeless. Hall said she has joined the evangelism team at her church and is going to the downtown square to share God’s love with homeless men and women. “When I was in recovery centers, people came to speak to us and brought us little gifts. This event was on a greater level than that,” Hall said. “To me, this event felt like somebody putting their arms around us. It felt like love.

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