BURLINGTON, Vt. (BP) — A $69.40 offering by a group of homeless Christians in Vermont reminds a local Baptist leader of the widow’s two mites that Jesus commended in the Gospels.
Terry Dorsett, director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association, has a new perception of the homeless because of the gift to the association’s mission offering for starting new churches and meeting church financial emergencies. Dorsett has asked the financially able among the association’s 35 churches to match the donation.
[[email protected]@180=“… [T]here’s a whole subculture of homeless Christians … just trying to live for the Lord.”
— Terry Dorsett, Baptist leader in Vermont]”I think we tend to think of homeless people just as being a bunch of addicts and people with problems,” Dorsett said. “And then while that does describe many homeless people, there’s a whole subculture of homeless Christians who obviously don’t have those problems and they’re just trying to live for the Lord in a different lifestyle setting than most of us might choose.
“So perhaps maybe we have misjudged how committed some homeless Christians are in the Kingdom of God,” Dorsett said. “These homeless people have set the example for generous living. Shall we follow their example?”
The $69.40 gift reflects gratitude by the Little Flock of Jesus for the blankets, clothing, fast-food gift certificates, meals, Bibles and fellowship extended to the homeless by Restoration Church and Burlington Street Ministries, pastor and ministry director David Russell said.
Because of the outreach, the Little Flock of Jesus went where homeless typically gather and collected humble donations to give in return.
“They said, you know, we just want to give back, and so they gave themselves a two-day challenge,” Russell said. “They wanted to raise $100; that was their goal. But they couldn’t raise $100 in that two-day period, and they were really apologetic for not raising $100. But they raised … $69.40.
“They just passed the hat among the homeless … and just urged everybody to put in some money,” Russell said. “I just told them that God would bless them for that because of their generosity and I told them it was just an unbelievable, incredible thing for them to give money for an offering” — the assocation’s Borders Mission Offering — “that’s going to plant churches that they’ll never, ever go to.”
Russell knows many committed Christians who make their home on the streets.
“There’s a lot of discipleship and spirituality among the homeless population. Jesus is alive and well among the homeless,” he said. “I want [Christians] to understand that even though [the homeless] might have a different culture … maybe the homeless believers don’t look like them, maybe even have some issues like drinking or some other stuff … but I want them to realize that within the context they are living, their life is as normal as we see our lives.
“And we need to accept the fact that … a saved homeless person might look different than a saved upper-class, middle-class person, and that they just need to accept the fact that our realities may be different but no one reality is more normal than the other,” said Russell, whose ministry is almost entirely to the homeless.
Dorsett said the Borders Mission Offering, named for pioneer Vermont church planters Merwyn and Linda Borders, is important to the 37 Southern Baptist churches and missions in Vermont.
“Every year we use it for a variety of things. We always use it to fund church plants and we also use it help for … emergencies if a pastor or church has some kind of emergency they can’t get funded,” Dorsett said. “A $5,000 year [for the offering] is actually a good year for us. I wish it was a lot more, but that’s just what it is.”
The association’s latest mission, the Arlington Community Church, is not eligible for Southern Baptist Convention funding for a variety of reasons, said Dorsett, including the pastor’s brief length of service and the sponsoring church being too young to provide much help.
“Basically [the Arlington pastor’s] only source of funding for whatever he’s going to do this year is the Borders Mission Offering, so if we don’t raise the money, he’s going to have a hard time doing all these community outreaches he’s planned,” Dorsett said. The church will receive 40 percent of the Borders Offering.
The rest of the money will fund emergencies, which last year included fuel for a church’s oil tank during the cold winter, airfare for a pastor and his wife to attend his father’s funeral in Florida and repairs to another pastor’s car transmission.
“We have requests all the time for emergency fund,” Dorsett said, “but a lot of the times we just have to say we can’t help you this time, there’s not enough money in the fund. If the money isn’t there, then we can’t do it.”
Although Vermont is the “least religious state in the nation,” Dorsett noted that “there is a huge revival going on in Vermont right now. The evangelical church has grown 17 percent in the last decade. Across the rest of the nation, the evangelical church is in retreat.
“And would we not want to join God in what he’s doing?”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).