Submitted by Judith P. Nembhard
Submitted by Judith P. Nembhard
For months, the Chattanooga First Church Homeless Ministry team, led by Alma Sasser, tirelessly promoted their goal of distributing 100 Christmas bags to the homeless in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn. On the afternoon of December 14, 2019, working across the street from the city’s Community Kitchen, the team handed out 101 “Bags of Love,” each containing a hat, gloves, a fleece blanket, a small pillow, a survival blanket, hand warmers, toiletries, and a Bible.
The ministry began when Sasser, along with four Chattanooga First members and three friends, felt a need to do something for the homeless in the city. They consulted the head of the Adventist-operated Samaritan Center, Tony Dahlberg, who gave them suggestions. May 29, 2010, they met in the home of Laura Powers, prepared sandwiches, and took them downtown to the homeless. Powers, who had experienced homelessness living with her single mother in their car, was an early motivating ministry force.
Church members and friends heard about the small group’s activity, and many joined in, contributing fruit and water in addition to the sandwiches. A red barrel was provided at the church for members to contribute clothing. Some donated toiletries and personal care items. Others added literature, and still others prepared a prayer box for the homeless to place their prayer requests. A few individuals even took their families and sang while the distributions were being made. Students from Southern Adventist University at times brought fruit and literature. Everyone was welcome to do whatever they could as often as they could. For nearly 10 years now, the second Sabbath afternoon each month has found Sasser and a dedicated group of members and friends out among the homeless, serving them in love.
Contributions of clothing and blankets became so large that storage posed a problem, but a solution was found when a member of the Floral Crest Adventist Church in Bryant, Alabama, provided space in her storage shed. Socks were added to the collection. “Charity races such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the Iron Man Competition have been extremely generous,” Sasser says. “All have donated hundreds of T-shirts, so many that we’ve sent some overseas to missions.”
On the first Sabbath of each month, Sasser distributes to each Sabbath School class a green envelope with the words FEED THE HOMELESS in large letters on it, and members contribute to the outreach ministry.
From its small beginning, the homeless ministry has found a firm place at Chattanooga First. Concerning that December afternoon when the “Bags of Love” were handed out, Sasser says, “We took time to talk with [the homeless] and share with them the love of Jesus.” Everyone at Chattanooga First is on board with this ministry. This includes interim pastor, Douglas Jacobs, who came to the church in May 2019. Having recently guided a relative through a difficult period of personal challenges, including homelessness, Jacobs says he realizes how essential such a ministry is. “It is fulfilling the basic function of what Jesus called us to do.”
Georgia-Cumberland | March 2020