Over the last few years it has become evident that Severe Weather Shelter Network is a bit of a mystery to many who may not have experienced what we do. Many are not sure who we intend to be in our community.
Severe Weather Shelter Network is an emergency overnight shelter in the winter months for individuals living on the streets. Straight forward and simple.
Our primary goal has been and continues to be preventing people from freezing to death.
That is what we do.
But who are we? What do we want to be in our community?
I don’t think any of us ever expected, or thought about, what would happen in our own hearts or in the hearts of the people we were sheltering. I don’t think we thought about in any conscious way about the possibility of beginning to love and care for people we previously hadn’t known.
Today, I share my own story of transformation for your consideration.
I first came to the table of the Severe Weather Collaboration in the summer of 2012. Agencies, churches, county organizations were all asking the question “Could churches open their buildings as shelter space? And if so, what would that look like?” I was at those meetings because our church was considering the possibility…not because I wanted anything to do with this thing…those people living on the streets.
Over the course of the next 3 months I was convicted in my heart that I was supposed to help with the organization of this new thing…this new shelter opportunity. Even then, I never planned to actually get involved beyond the behind the scenes organization of it. I would help get it going and then move on.
I still remember the first night we actually provided shelter at Sloans Lake Community Church. I was supposed to spend the night and be with the women. I called Rick probably 5 times telling him I couldn’t do it. I was SO frightened! Rick kept encouraging me and telling me I could do it…he said he would see me at 6pm that night.
I made it through that first night…and other nights in that first season. What continued to draw me in was the conversations I was having over dinner with these people. I learned so much about their dreams, their failures, their hopes for tomorrow. I learned about their talents and their passions. I learned about brokenness and pain. I learned about grace and mercy. So much in their lives reflected my own experience…it could have been me.
I love shelter nights. They are some of my favorite nights of the winter season. I am privileged to welcome my friends into a warm space. I am privileged to listen to their story and share a meal together. I am privileged to share some of myself and be counted as a friend. My heart is full on shelter nights.
I am not the only one who has become friends with our guests. Many of our volunteers wonder about and pray for our guests every day. Some of our volunteers are engaging with our guests all year long now by connecting with our partner organizations that serve every day…all year long.
Relationships are often what drive us to do things we would never dream of doing, causing us to grow up into more of who we are supposed to be in this world.
Relationships have caused Severe Weather Shelter Network to be very intentional about who our partners are and how we engage in the broader community. It is out of these relationships, both with our guests and our partners, that we are becoming more of who we are supposed to be.
We get to become advocates in the broader community on behalf of our guests. We are telling stories and revealing truth about what life on the streets is like. We are helping others to realize that when we all work together, according to our gifts and talents, change begins to take place. The needs of the many begin to out way the needs of the few.
I am excited for this season. I can hardly wait until we have our first shelter nights. I look forward to welcoming volunteers and guests. I look forward to embracing all that God has for us…all of us.
I invite you to join me. You are needed. Overnight hosts, drivers, people to answer phones…there is room at the table for all.
If you are convicted that you need to be part of this work, click this link and ask for more information about how you can connect with Severe Weather Shelter Network today.
The snow will be flying soon. I look forward to welcoming each of you into our space!
Lynn Ann Huizingh