Video: Churches find ways to give warmth to neighbors without homes

Scroll down the page to view a video featuring outreach to the homeless by two United Methodist congregations in Arkansas.

Scroll down the page to view a video featuring outreach to the homeless by two United Methodist congregations in Arkansas. AUM PHOTO BY MARTHA TAYLOR

By Martha Taylor
Special Contributor

A cold day with a cup of hot coffee was how the Holy Spirit moved Janie Orr to action.

Orr, the wife of the Rev. David Orr, pastor at First United Methodist Church Searcy, was enjoying her warm home when she was struck by the abundance of her life and how different it was for others living within walking distance of the church building.

“It just hit me that we have a big gymnasium and we needed to be using it,” said Orr.

Aaron Reddin, founder of The One, Inc., a non-profit organization that cares for the homeless across central Arkansas, had shared information about Searcy’s homeless population and the need for assistance with the local ministerial alliance. The church’s outreach committee agreed to help.

The call came in early January as temperatures dipped into the teens. Within 24 hours, the church had organized a warming station, complete with meals, toiletries and sleeping space for any who needed it.

Church member Arthur Churchill said that there was suspicion among the homeless at first. As far as he knew, this was the first time a church had opened its doors to them.

“As the word spread, they realized that this is something for them,” Churchill said. “We weren’t trying to sell them anything. We’re not trying to do anything but give them a place to sleep.”

The building remained open every evening until the worst of the cold subsided. Orr hopes that the church will find ways of caring for its homeless neighbors regardless of the season.

On the same night First UMC Searcy was providing warm meals and beds, a crew from CanvasCommunity UMC Little Rock loaded into “Bertha,” a passenger van donated by Piney Grove UMC Hot Springs, and went out into the cold night to check on their neighbors.

The van made stops at places in the city where the homeless find a modicum of safety and warmth, providing coffee, socks and hand warmers. Homeless neighbors seemed to appreciate the presence of the people checking on them just as much as the supplies.

These churches are just two of many UMCs with a desire to care for the homeless. Other churches across Arkansas are involved in similar ministries, making an impact on the lives of those they serve while growing in their understanding of what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ.