By Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
It seemed impossible to believe. These were hard-working people. I know them well. What had started out as a fun place to live and save some money had become quite difficult. They put their belongings in a storage unit, loaded the car with clothes, and pitched their tent at the nearby campground. What an adventure for this mom, dad, and young son. They cooked outside. They showered in the bathhouse. They could swim everyday in the lake. It was great for a while, but warm summer days turned into colder, rainy fall nights. Keeping up the pretense that everything was fine became harder to do.
Suddenly the statistic had a name. It was someone I knew. Earlier this year, a national study found that 1 in 50 children in America is homeless. Numbers of children without a permanent place to sleep are growing. They are living in motels, cars, abandoned buildings, parks, campgrounds and shelters.
Last week at Lake Junaluska, a young United Methodist pastor told us that there was an Asheville, N.C., that is not shown in the tourism brochure. He then turned on the projector and displayed pictures of the Asheville that is often overlooked. Deserted buildings with old stained mattresses have become homes for the homeless. His pictures point out that poverty is not pretty. One slide was a long line of people who were waiting for free heating oil. The pastor told of the father who had waited in that line for two days holding his young infant next to him to keep the child warm.
This week my mother-in-law spent the night at her church as they hosted the Inter-Faith Hospitality Network. She serves in this ministry once a month. This particular night, five families were staying there because they had no place else to go.
As we prepare ourselves for the seasons of Advent and Christmas, our hearts naturally turn toward home. Undoubtedly, the radio will play that old Perry Como song, “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays. ‘Cause no matter how far away you roam. When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly face, for the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home.” It is heartbreaking to realize that there are many of God’s children who have no place to call home.
In Mexico, part of the celebration of the season is the Posada tradition. Posada is the Spanish word for “inn.” For the nine days before Christmas, there is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph going from house to house looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Since childhood, we have instinctively recognized that although there was no room for Mary and Joseph in any of the inns of the town, God did provide a place. This young expectant mother and her husband in the most humble of accommodations gave birth to the Christ child and blessed all of the people of the world, even the innkeepers who had no room.
When the strangers come to our door, the church is challenged and called to welcome them and make room.