“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.” – Titus 3:5-6 (NLT)
Several days ago, my family and I were sitting in church. We noticed something different than any Sunday before. In the sea of nicely dressed families, we noticed several homeless people walking into church and finding a place to sit. They were all greeted with a smile and many people recognized them and helped them find chairs or get a hot cup of coffee. This might not sound like a normal Christmas story, but for us, it became the ultimate Christmas story.
Jesus came into this world in a very different and unconventional way, so that He could give his life to save people that are very different and unconventional. What made it an even richer moment, was that our whole church family was embracing these men and women into their church family. It’s impossible to express the emotion that I was feeling at that moment. For me to lead a Christian organization that cares for the homeless, seeing my church not only welcoming people off the streets but going above and beyond to make them feel a part of their church family – warmed my heart like I couldn’t believe. At that moment I was proud, I was touched, I was emotional, I was full of celebration, and I thought to myself: “Now this is Christmas!”
And why? Because this is the culmination of the verse we started with at the beginning of this letter. Jesus came to save us, but not just us, everyone who has experienced brokenness. And no one experiences brokenness more than people living on the streets.
This Christmas story goes back to you too. You see, the church we attend has become one of our Hub Spots at River of Life Mission. And this isn’t to boast about my church, because they did this all on their own. It’s been special to watch this little church provide meals and then pair it with ministry (sharing about Jesus, sharing worship, giving out Bibles, providing showers, giving out clothes, giving haircuts, doing intake to see if further services can be provided, and more), and to see it move to the place where the people they help on Tuesdays are now coming to be a part of a church family on Sundays – just blew my mind. Why? Because it just does not happen!
I often ask our outreach teams, “What do you see on the streets that we can help with?”. The most common feedback is that people just want to be a part of a church family. Did you ever imagine you would hear that? People are getting food, and we praise God for that. Many are getting shelter, and we praise God for that. But many just want to be a part of a church family, but there are very few that will accept them or even let them in.
My Christmas story this year is that we made a bold change to go all mobile which has allowed us to start working on a much broader level with people, families, churches, and any organization that might have a heart for the poor, not just here in Chinatown, but all over the island. We are hearing stories like this from all of our Hub Spots.
You see, “home” is where the heart is, and this year I truly believe you are helping us bring people home. And for my wife and I, our hearts were full of joy, seeing people from the streets find a “home”, at a church, and possibly even for the first time in years – maybe ever.
Personally, I am elated about where we are headed at River of Life Mission. We just held our annual Gala and were able to share all God is doing and where we are headed at the mission. It was a beautiful night! We completely sold out and many new donors decided to jump in and help us do what we love to do. But for me, the biggest blessing came after the program was over and some of the comments I received were: “Pastor Paul, your staff look so happy”, “The new plan that River of Life Mission is doing, is powerful, and we can see that it is absolutely working and working well”, and “I have never heard the word ‘Jesus’ said so many times at a Gala before”. As you can imagine, these comments blessed me immensely and in unique ways. But my most important takeaway from the night is that we are absolutely on the right track, and it is God and God alone that is driving us down that track.
I leave you with this last thought: “River of Life Mission is better than ever. We are headed in a completely new direction, going all over Oahu, to reach people where they are. Working with more people and churches than ever before, and everyone is seeing the results: more people accepting Jesus, more people transitioning off the streets (many being reunited with their families), more people volunteering, and more people joining us in our mission of helping people in need.”
And if you will join me in a prayer: “Father, we want to help more, and we have a new plan that is working. God, would You provide an outpouring of funding and new donors to help us carry out these great plans that are having a broad new impact for the kingdom and extending people the opportunity to know Jesus.”
As we head into Christmas and the year-end, I pray that each of you will truly enjoy this amazing verse above of Jesus saving us, and all the things that He has made new. And that this simple story would be a warmhearted gift of thanksgiving at Christmas for all you have done to support River of Life Mission and some amazing people called our “guests”.
As you give at year-end, please know your gift will help push forward a brand-new vision that is producing God-sized results. And if you feel led to share with others about all River of Life Mission is doing during this holiday season, we would be grateful. More people helping us do what we love to do, would take this holiday season and celebration, and push it all forward in even more profound ways. Helping people on the streets experience Christmas again, and feel at home somewhere.
May God bless you!
Pastor Paul Gates