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Global Outreach International

"I needed the homeless more than they needed me"

02.14.19
by Leanna Hollis
What "blessing bags" and serving lunch to the homeless taught me about God

Our homeless ministry started in an unlikely way - with personal hygiene bags, not the recognition of people in need. A friend suggested we use travel-sized toiletries to make “blessing bags” (personal hygiene bags). A suitcase under my bed was full of unused soap, shampoo, and conditioner from years of hotel visits, so we sorted through the stash, set a goal of 500 bags and went to work.

We didn’t have a destination in mind for the bags, and I didn’t have time to hand them out, but we packed them anyway. Although we didn’t know it at the time, the bags were the first step in a God-designed journey of ministry. Within months, the Holy Spirit connected us to people with time to distribute the bags. Some were used on foreign mission trips as gifts in exchange for an opportunity to share the gospel but most went to local homeless outreach. 

Personal hygiene bags were my first step of obedience on a path I didn’t yet recognize. Cooking and serving Saturday lunch at a local shelter, where I met a few of the homeless in our area, was the second. Those experiencing homelessness were kind, funny, resourceful, and hopeful despite circumstances that seemed dire to me. Their generosity astounded me. I saw our commonalities and learned to love my neighbors in a new and deeper way. 

Before long, I recognized an important fact. I needed the homeless far more than the homeless needed me or my hygiene packs. Their lifestyle of gratitude, willingness to suffer without complaint, and lack of a sense of entitlement were all lessons I needed to learn. Did my service look like that of Jesus? Not at first - at least not as much as I thought.

It took time for God to open my eyes to see those in need through the same lens I saw myself. It changed the way I love and revolutionized the way I serve. Ministry is an important part of my journey, but demonstrating the love of Christ in all I do and say is the goal. I’m more like Jesus now than I was at the start. Service to the homeless is one of the reasons. 

We serve a God who is love. He gave His Son because He loved us and He expects nothing less in return. Love God with all you've got. Love your neighbor in the same way as you love yourself. It’s the royal law of our King and it makes us more like Him when we obey.

How You Can Make A Difference

Want to make a difference in the lives of those experiencing homelessness? Here’s a simple formula: Look - Listen - Serve - Give - Love. 

Look for people in need. Listen when they speak. Serve where you can. Give as you’re able. Most important of all: Let love lead. 

Is the Holy Spirit leading you toward a “blessing bag” ministry? Gather a group of friends and a few supplies and get started. Many of those experiencing homelessness carry all their belongings in a backpack, so quart-sized bags are the preferred size. 

Suggested items for quart-sized personal hygiene packs include: 

  1. hotel-sized soap
  2. hotel-sized shampoo
  3. knit gloves that stretch to fit all sizes during cold weather
  4. knit caps
  5. deodorant
  6. Canned meat with pull tab openings or in foil packs
  7. crackers
  8. any soft snack they can just open and have on hand (protein bars, etc)
  9. socks
  10. new underwear (men’s and women’s)
  11. feminine hygiene supplies
  12. toothbrushes
  13. small tube of toothpaste
  14. small packs of band-aids
  15. “hot hands” packets of hand warmers during cold weather
  16. sunscreen packets