SHoe Edit 2It was well after 11pm on a Monday night when I got into my car to head home. As I left the parking lot of Impact! Church I passed three young girls carrying a few small duffel bags. They looked lost and out of place in the Parker Street neighborhood at that time of night. I stopped, rolled down my window and asked them if they needed help. “Don’t hurt us mister, we’re homeless”, one of the girls said. After calming her down she began to share their story with me.

They were sisters and had been living in a trash dumpster for the past 40 days. The only clothes they had were the clothes that they were wearing. In the duffel bags were their “babies” – a sickly dog and small cat. They explained that they had not eaten in days and were looking for help. In talking to them I realized that they were mentally challenged – and sacred to death. Over the past year I had heard some pretty crazy stories – some true – and some not so true. The sisters’ story was one of the craziest I had heard and I was leaning toward some of it not being true. Then I noticed her shoes – the ones in the picture above. They were old, dirty, tattered and her feet were sticking out from multiple holes. They were the shoes of someone that had walked miles on the streets of Lakeland. They were the shoes of someone that had no money and no idea how to get any. They were the shoes of someone that didn’t know how to “play the system” to get new stuff or food. They were the shoes of a scared, developmentally disabled, young woman that needed love, acceptance and help.

Over the past few weeks Impact! Church has worked with two other amazing Lakeland ministries – Gospel Inc. and Talbot House Ministries – to provide counseling, life skills training, on-going living arrangements and job placement for the sisters. We have also discovered that every part of their story is true – one of the worst I’ve ever heard in the hood. Thanks to those that generously give to and selflessly serve at Impact! Church, the sisters now have hope, a better life, a place of belonging, a roof over their head – and new shoes.

“Slim” sometimes sits in front of Impact! Church. He usually stares into space, rarely talks to anyone and almost always mumbles to himself. At one time “Slim” was an attorney from up North with a 6-figure salary, nice home and a promising career. A series of traumatic experiences back-to-back left him shell-shocked and mentally unstable. For the last 10 years he has been one of Lakeland’s regular homeless residents – living on the streets in whatever shelter, bush or box he can find. He prefers to be by himself and never – to my knowledge – has stayed overnight in a shelter. Even with the temperatures for Lakeland this week dipping into the low 30s, “Slim” will stay outside. He’s not the only one – there will be several dozen of Impact!’s homeless neighbors that will choose to stay outdoors during these very cold nights.

On cold nights like this week, a group of Impact! Church volunteers will walk the Parker Street neighborhood most of the night taking blankets, sleeping bags, canned food and hot coffee to our homeless friends that prefer not to come in to sleep. We will also have 30-50 people staying in our church overnight trying to stay warm. They need blankets, food and hot coffee also.

Rarely does a week go by that I don’t have someone ask me how they can help Impact! Church help others. This is one of those opportunities that you can make a difference. With the impending cold weather – and with Lakeland having record cold already – our supplies are depleted. We would be grateful in receiving the following items:

  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Large packs, bags or cans of ground coffee
  • Cans of Vienna Sausage
  • Cans of Beanie Weenies
  • Bottled water
  • Styrofoam coffee cups

This is not a huge list, but these items can have a HUGE impact on the lives of people in the Parker Street community this week. If you can donate any of these supplies, please bring them to Impact! Church, (618 North Massachusetts Avenue – Lakeland, FL 33801) someone will always be there to receive them. If you would prefer to make a financial donation to help, you can give securely online by going to https://impactchurchlakeland.cloverdonations.com/general-budget . All donations are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated. If you have questions or need further information, please feel free to call or text me (863-606-8323).

Thank you in advance for partnering with Impact! Church to love God, love people and make an impact!

The other day we had a knock on the office door at Impact! Church. I opened it to find a young African-American man in his early 20s standing there.  As he began to talk I realized he was developmentally challenged. In quiet tones he asked if the pastor might have a moment to talk with him.  I told him I was the pastor and would love to talk to him.  He explained that he didn’t want to take up my time and that he was not looking for a hand out – but he heard we were a church and we might be able to help guide him to a place where he could get help.  I sensed a real humbleness in the man – not someone that was dry begging – but someone that truly just wanted guidance.

He told me that he and his mother lived a block away (they have no vehicle so he walked) and that they were having trouble making ends meet.  She was almost 70-years-old and on Social Security.  He was mentally challenged and on disability.  Recently our local electric company raised the price of their service – and now this family couldn’t afford rent, electricity and food on a very limited income.  They chose to pay for rent and electricity – and now had no food in the house. He wanted to know if there were any local programs he and his mother could get on to help with a box or two of food each month.  At this point he had teared up and his voice began to break. His head was bowed and he wouldn’t look me in the eye.  I had seen this look before – it was look of shame.  The shame of not being able to afford basic necessities in life.  The shame of having to ask for help.  The shame of feeling unworthy. The shame of feeling like a failure.  I told him I knew exactly where he could get some help if he would follow me.

I led him into a another room at Impact! Church – one filled with donated clothes, toiletry items and food. I grabbed an empty banana box and began to load it with canned goods, bread, seasonings, frozen meat and dairy products.  It was overflowing with enough food for two folks to live on for two weeks.  I handed it to him and told him to please come back every week for another box of food.  Then it happened – he lifted up his head, he looked at the box of food, his eyes widen and he smiled.  He smiled a HUGE smile.  He smiled a smile that lit up the room. He smiled a smile that just made you feel good all over. He smiled a smile I would have knocked down walls or walked through deserts to see again. He smiled a smile that only the moving of God could put on person’s face.

Moments later I was the one beginning to tear up as I sat in my office thanking God.  Thanking God for an amazing church full of great leaders and volunteers.  Thanking God for the calling that brought us to “the hood”. Thanking God that we have the privilege of helping and serving others in His name. Thanking God for all of the generous people that support Impact! Church with finances, resources and donations. Thanking God for the simple joy of seeing someone smile.