Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations responding to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s call to "Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide." The call to grow in evangelism, discipleship, servanthood and diversity was adopted by the 2008 General Assembly and renewed by the 2010 General Assembly. — Jerry L. Van Marter
Hollywood's stories can be an entertaining departure from reality, but they can also be an eye-opening look at things happening right in front of us.
That was the case for a young girl from Shelbyville, Ky., when she saw the 2009 film "The Blind Side."
The film is based on the life of Michael Oher, who now plays football for the Baltimore Ravens, but had a troubled childhood that took him through several foster homes and with periods of homelessness. As a teenager, he was taken in by a local family, the Touhys.
In one scene in the film, mother Leigh Anne Touhy shows Oher to his bedroom, to which Oher says, "It's nice. I've never had one before."
Touhy replies with, "What, a room to yourself?" Oher answers her, "A bed."
It was this particular scene that stuck with the 11-year-old girl from Shelbyville, who has asked to have her name withheld, instead preferring the focus be on her ministry.
"I thought that every kid had a bed and I didn't realize that some kids didn't until I saw the movie," she said. "It made me want to get them beds."
She continued to think about the idea of children without beds and spoke to her mother, a teacher, about her concern. Her mother checked around at school and found a family with two boys who needed a bed.
With the holidays approaching, the family decided to act on the need.
"We always do something like that for Christmas in my family, whether it’s something for the Angel Tree or something like that and that year I wanted to get someone a bed," said the young girl.
That would turn out to be just the first family they would help. Wanting to continue addressing the need, the idea for a new ministry was brought to First Presbyterian Church of Shelbyville, where the girl’s grandmother serves on the mission committee.
"A Place to Sleep" was officially created as a new outreach program for the church. The ministry accepts donations in the form of furniture, new bedding and cash. The program will start doing fundraisers like car washes or bake sales next year and will have a booth at the church's alternative Christmas gift market to help with the purchase of bedding, the item they have found most challenging to collect so far.
Families in need are identified, and once the beds and bedding are collected, they are delivered. A total of 16 beds have been delivered already and more are needed.
"When our churches see the need right in front of them, across the street, down the street, and begin to address that need in the name of Christ, whether it’s a bed or it's teaching somebody English, the church discovers its identity," says Betty Meadows, executive presbytery for Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. "It discovers who God has asked it to be, who Christ has asked it to be."
Getting a bed for a child not only provides that child with physical comfort to sleep, but also helps children during the day to be well rested and better prepared for school.
The young girl behind the ministry notes that it has grown since that first family. Initially she says the families they helped had one or two children but they've been seeing families with four or more children.
"We just got some beds for a family that was all sleeping on the floor. It was a family of six and they were sleeping on the floor of one of the nastiest apartments we have here in Shelbyville," she said.
"We have enough beds and we'll deliver that soon to that family," she continued.
Perhaps the best part, she noted, is seeing what a difference a simple gift of a bed can make to a child.
"The first ones that we delivered, the two boys came running out of the apartment screaming and jumping," she said. "We also had a little girl that I just delivered to and she said she wanted pink and purple and blue bed covers and would I come and give those to her."
"I just want to thank God that the church saw the need, somebody in the church responded to that need, and now people are being served from First Pres Shelbyville," Meadows said. "That's the reason the church exists. The church exists for mission. The church exists to serve God's people and sometimes we forget that."