Paul is a man who I see regularly. For a while, when I would see him, I’d call out his name to say “hello.” He would hardly look up as he nodded and gave a small wave. Sometimes, it can be discouraging to acknowledge someone and not get that same enthusiasm reciprocated. I’d see him as I walked into the Lunchbox and say, “Hey, Paul!” A nod, a small wave.

 I’d see him at the public library. “Pretty day out, Paul.” A nod, a wave.

Things have pleasantly changed over the last couple of months.

“How’s your day going?” Paul asked me one evening.

I looked up surprised, and with a smile that was probably far too big, I replied, “PAUL!”

Paul laughed as he carried his tray of food to his table at community dinner.

I’ve always loved that we hand out name tags to our guests at community dinners. It is a great way for us to recognize the humanity in our friends by referring to their identity. This is the reason I knew Paul’s name and could greet him when seeing him outside of the church.

It makes me happy to see those who are serving, the friendliness of the kitchen crew, and the one-on-one engagement from the drink station volunteers. And, if you really want to know what a blessing it is to serve you need look no farther than our Joy group and the delight they take in participating.

Jordan Beech is a member of St. Paul’s and works as the Women’s Lacrosse coach at OBU. A few times, recently, he has brought the team up to the church to be a part of the mission we are serving. They have assisted in carrying trays for guests who are less able, checking with them at their tables to see if there is more they need, as well as cleaning at the end of the night. It’s been such a blessing to see these young ladies at work.

I had a chance to talk to the team as a group. Having been recruited from all over the country, they expressed how eye-opening it is to encounter such a population of people experiencing poverty or homelessness in a city like Shawnee. You could see the growing compassion in their faces. Just in the opportunity to serve they have been richly impacted. At our most recent dinner, 3 of them came independently because it has meant so much to them to be a part of making that kind of impact on the lives of others.

Dave has sat down at the piano bench with me a few times. I’ve let him play some and sing along with a few hymns, too. He even blessed me with singing in his native tongue. Dave has also taken the time to tell me his story and ask for prayers. He visited with me when we were serving dinner in the sanctuary.

“You guys really don’t look down on me, do you? Letting me be in the place you worship makes me feel like you see me as one of you, instead of just the homeless guy.”

There are so many stories. Jon loves vinyl records. He has a collection of old albums tucked away for safe keeping.  Angel is several months sober now and was able to mow some lawns this summer to make some much needed money. How well do you know our guests beyond their name tags?

As we serve meals to feed the physical needs in our community, we likewise have an opportunity to feed their spirits. This comes through building relationships. This is an area where we could never have too many volunteers on the 1st and 3rd Mondays. Regardless of whether or not every serving position is filled, and every wall is being held up, there is still an abundance of need in relational ministries. We’d love to see our volunteers sitting at tables with our guests and getting to know them, offer to pray for them, and share faith with them. Sometimes, all it takes is the ability to listen.

We look forward to seeing you at our next community dinner on November 18th. It is our annual Thanksgiving Dinner! I can’t think of a better time to begin embracing our guests as family. By giving them a sense of value and belonging we will certainly be the ones with something to be thankful for.