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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Youth at Montgomery’s Heritage Baptist Church get taste of homeless lifecomment (0)

December 4, 2008


In the wee, humid hours of the morning Nov. 15, students from Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association, got wet.

So far, they had managed to keep building their “homes” outside in the sprinkling rain that started around 11 p.m.
“Some of the dwellings were really good,” said Adam Bishop, Heritage Baptist’s student minister. “Some of them combined their boxes and made tunnels.”

But the cardboard boxes couldn’t handle the downpour that soon followed. The rain pooled up to two inches in the church’s parking lot and crept into their sleeping bags. Adult chaperones, who were on a rotating security schedule, shouted for those still asleep to get up and move inside the gymnasium of the church’s Family Life Center.

Bishop knew there was chance of rain. He prayed God would keep it away. That way his youth group, the one-night residents of his brainchild, Cardboard City, could truly experience at least the sunset to sunrise reality of on-the-streets homelessness.

Yet, when the experiment was over, it seemed possible that the emergency Plan B made even more of an impact.

“God ordained something special for us, I think,” Bishop said. “I think [the rain] really nailed down the experience, because we were talking about homelessness, especially in Montgomery, several hours before. There are just under 900 homeless people in the city of Montgomery on any given night and they were out there, too. But they didn’t have a gym to go into. For a lot of the students, it really hit home what the whole weekend was about.”

The weekend, themed “Sleep in a box, serve others, experience homelessness, and make an impact,” was Bishop’s idea.  

“I might have heard about it through the grapevine or something, but it’s just something I put together,” he said. “I really have a desire for students to do more than just your typical youth type stuff. I have a desire for them to expand their worldview and for them to really experience the world around them.”

After undertaking a meaningful community service project on a missions trip this past summer, Bishop said the youth group “had a real desire to do something locally. That’s where it came from.”

When Bishop first told the youth group the idea, 15-year-old Victoria Bye was all for it. “I was really excited about it, because I have a heart for helping people,” Bye said. “I like serving others.”

After a plain meal of chicken noodle soup, white bread and water, Bye got two hours sleep, before the rain came.

“Mine was a real plain box,” she said of her Friday night home, which was built out of cardboard the youth group had been collecting for two months.

Saturday morning, Bye served breakfast to clients of the Montgomery branch of Family Promise, an outreach organization providing shelter and support services to homeless families. Other students were involved in other projects.

Sixteen-year-old Kevin Webb made sandwiches at the Friendship Mission. “It made me realize how many homeless people are in the area, and just how more common it is, and stuff,” Webb said.

As for the night before? “It was cool. I got to sleep in a cardboard box.”

During the weekend, Bye said her perception of homelessness changed.

“I guess I kind of thought that, I mean, I know they’re people, but I considered them a group of people and never considered the homeless people as individuals,” she said. “But when you go out and see them as individuals, you realize they’re just like you, they’re just in a situation.”

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