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Youth hunger retreat touched by grief & talents of the homeless

PULASKI, Tenn. (BP)–Their B.E.A.T. Hunger retreat will not soon be forgotten.

A tense silence fell over the youth from First Baptist Church, Pulaski, Tenn., as the church van made its way into downtown Nashville on that cold Friday night earlier this year. Armed with gospel tracts, hot coffee and snacks, the group had embarked on a journey into the unknown world of homelessness.

They had determined to make a difference in people’s lives during their B.E.A.T. Hunger retreat (Believers Everywhere Attack Hunger). Little did they know, the biggest difference would be within themselves.

“I expected to warm their hearts and bodies,” Melissa, 18, said. “However, I received so much more from the people we met, that they ended up touching my heart.”

For several weeks, their youth minister, Lewis Thomas, had been leading them through Bible studies on the subject of the poor, allowing the Holy Spirit to build a burden in their hearts leading up to the retreat. Having begun a 24-hour fast early that morning, the empty pain gnawing in their stomachs would give them empathy for the people they were soon to meet — or so they thought.

As the group approached a park on the banks of the Cumberland River, they came to a place known as the “hot rock” (so named because of steam lines that run under it make it warm). There, a motley group of people huddled close together seeking the warmth of one another amidst the night’s damp fog.

Were they drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals? Was it a safe place to be? No one knew for sure until the church youth began to interact with the group and discovered their shocking story.

What the teens found was a group of hurting people locked in the depths of grief. These who had so little had suffered a loss, the death of a friend. Lewis Thomas, the church youth minister, had noticed a police boat patrolling the waters with a searchlight moving back and forth near the Memorial Bridge just a few hundred feet away. Just a few hours earlier, a friend of this group, another homeless man, had jumped from the bridge, taking his own life. The group knew then that God had brought them there for a reason.

As the youth extended their sympathy, prayed, shared coffee and snacks, they were approached by “Chuck,” a homeless man. “He could quote more Scripture than almost any man I know,” Linda, one of the church youth, recounted. “He asked that I pray for the homeless. He went on to say that no one much cared for them. … Chuck used Scripture to help me better grasp his situation.” After spending some time with the group, he just walked away.

“He touched my life,” Linda, 16, later stated, “and I know I will never look at another homeless person the same again.” The experience left the group wondering if they had just entertained an angel.

The following morning, the group served breakfast at the Union Rescue Mission. As more than 200 homeless men trudged through the serving line at 5:30 that morning, the church youth worked hard to serve the food and give personal attention to everyone who came through the line.

One homeless man in his 20s quickly finished his breakfast so he could play the guitar the group brought with them. Another man, calling himself “Prince Edward,” began to draw freehand sketches of some members of the youth group.

The experience proved an eye-opener to Whitney, a high school senior with the group, as he noted the uniqueness of every individual they encountered. One thing “which sticks out is the talent and gifts in these individuals,” Whitney said. “They each possess a unique personality which is amazing once one gets to know them.”

As the tired young people climbed into the van for the trip home, Lewis Thomas stated, “New friends were made and though we may never know the outcome of their lives, ours will be forever changed.”

In addition to street ministry and serving breakfast at the mission, the group raised more than $600 for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund through sponsorships from parents, neighbors and friends. Thomas said it was not hard to do once people realized that 100 percent of what they gave would be used for hunger ministry in the United States and around the world.

B.E.A.T Hunger is a retreat that youth groups carry out through the use of a resource kit by the same name. The kits are the result of a partnership between the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board. The B.E.A.T. Hunger kits can be ordered by contacting the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at 1-800-475-9127 or by email at [email protected]. The retreat includes raising funds for the World Hunger Fund through sponsorships, Bible studies, a 24-hour fast, doing hunger ministry and hosting a hunger banquet for parents and church members. The emphasis teaches young people how demonstrating compassion in Jesus’ name opens countless doors for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
Nelson is director of hunger concerns with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: B.E.A.T. HUNGER.

    About the Author

  • Steven S. Nelson