by Tom Bradley
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – It was a cold Thursday afternoon, late in December in Grand Rapids. Merri and I were doing our usual afternoon shift at the neighborhood coffee shop, where our church meets on the urban West Side. Christmas decorations were up, and the windows were frosted, with it being close to 20 degrees outside. The “after school rush” of neighborhood kids had already come through for their free hot chocolate. A couple of them still remained doing homework and playing Uno in the corner; the coffee shop was a great place for them to hang out till they were picked up by their mom. It was safe, and warm.
The neighborhood adult crowd was a little light, probably because it was just too cold to be walking around. That is why Merri and I were a little surprised when the young family walked in. Mama, daddy, and two little ones in a stroller. “You look cold, would you like a cup of coffee?” Merri asked. “Yes please!” We served them a couple of cups, free, because this is a coffee shop where it is always free.
When Merri turned around and looked at me, I could see the concern in her eyes, and I acknowledged it. We meet lots of people from all walks of life in our neighborhood here. We know the regulars, some homeless, many with struggles of various kinds, and just normal neighborhood folks. Many are our friends and neighbors, and often we have an opportunity to speak grace in their lives. For some, it is the only place where they hear it, and this couple that had just come in from the cold, seemed like they could use some. I went over, offered to refresh their cup and introduced myself. “My name is Tom. My wife Merri is behind the counter” “Thank you for the coffee. I’m LaShandra, and this is Deodre” (I changed their names) “I haven't met you before on our Thursday shift. Are you new to the West Side?” “No,” Deondre said, “I grew up around the corner, but we have been on the other side of town for a while, but we are not there now.” “Coming back to the West Side?” I asked. “Well not exactly. We are not sure where we are spending the night tonight.” And just like that, the light conversation suddenly became serious.
Seeing homeless people is not unusual in our neighborhood, and often we offer them resources for area agencies if they are interested. This situation was different. The weather was dropping into the teens again tonight. We were immediately worried, especially for the toddler and baby. After a few minutes, Merri and I went behind the counter and talked about options. Shelters would take them. We could drive them. One thing we knew. We had to help them get somewhere tonight.
So a few nights before Christmas, we were able to find them a warm place to stay, and dinner from the local taco stand. Later we brought over a pack-and-play from our house and some food. Our West Side ministry team partners who run the coffee shop and neighborhood ministry were able to find them a more permanent place to stay, an apartment, right behind the coffee shop.
We became friends, they came to CrossWinds often, and the meaning of Christmas was presented in a special way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom and Merri Bradley are Send Network Missionaries, planting CrossWinds church in urban NW Grand Rapid. They are in their third year, but still in need of support partners, as urban plants often take longer to reach sustainability. If you would like to learn more or receive their newsletter feel free to contact them at email@example.com