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A Sweltering Fashion Show

The summer presents a host of unique challenges to the work we do in the places we do ti. Without access to cool shelter—or at times, any shelter—our beloved must engage in a constant race against dehydration where loss can mean sickness, hospitalization, or even death (as in one particularly sad case this summer). Good, cold water and a shady place to rest can make a big difference in the lives of those with whom we share our lives. Inviting folks to sit on your porch with a glass of iced tea or lemonade is more than a quaint picture of hospitality; in some cases, it’s a lifesaving or life preserving act of mercy.

The reality is that there are few places to get clean water without money in our semi-urban jungle and even fewer places where one of our brothers or sisters can rest without loitering or being run off by store managers, security, or police officers. One of our partner congregations, First Baptist Church of Danville, started putting an emergency heat shelter program in place this summer and as it continues to come together, we give thanks for their involvement and for the involvement of other partners and individuals who are looking for ways to be a blessing to their city and their neighborhood. But, rest and hydration come at a premium as the days get hotter and the doors stay closed to keep in the cold air.

So, you can imagine that it came as quite a surprise when we very recently found grace dressed up in a winter coat.

One scorching afternoon, several of our leaders (a few of which are supported as missionaries by Third Chance Ministries!) were spending their time in conversation and celebration with our brothers and sisters who live on the Northside. One or two of us were spending our time doing “check-ins” with some of our homeless friends who take shelter in a wide variety of places, but often wind up sitting on porches and stoops with us as we pass out lunches and water. In the summer and the winter, it’s especially important for us to check in with the folks most exposed to the elements.

But, while a couple of us were doing the “check-ins,” another was setting up another cooler full of lemonade on the sidewalk for whoever may want it and two others were unloading clothes and food to a nearby one room apartment. That apartment provides a semblance of shelter to a number of adults and over half a dozen children. Though it’s often sweltering in the home, there’s always a seat on the porch and people to spend an afternoon with. It was awfully hot, but what we had to share that day in addition to sandwiches, cold water, and freezer pops was winter coats and heavy clothing. We had been hesitant to take the clothes up there so early, with months to go before the weather would necessitate them. But sometimes it’s blessedly difficult not to give what you have to share with those you love. Plus, just because it’s hot today doesn’t mean it won’t be cold soon.

So, in one of our least expected moments, we started passing out winter coats to children on a ninety degree day alongside cold snacks and ice water. Their parents reminded the children to say “thank you” and then told them to take the coats and clothing to the room they shared and put them in the closet for later this year. But the kids rushed to the room without saying anything and came back out moments later for an impromptu fashion show on the street. On a sweltering sidewalk, they showed off their proudest walks and most exaggerated runway turns. They might have forgotten to say “thank you,” but they didn’t forget to demonstrate their gratitude. Frankly, I think we’d always prefer the latter, because sometimes grace and gratitude stands out as clearly as somebody wearing a winter coat on a hot July day.

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