Column: Into the warmth and the light

by Jan Lewis

The forecast for tonight is cold, bitterly cold, with a sharp northwesterly wind making the 22 degree temperature at midday feel more like single digits.

The dusk gathers quickly on this overcast winter day and the streetlights are already cycling on as a volunteer unlocks the front door. It’s 4 p.m.

By 4:30 p.m., the guests have started trickling in. The men are bundled in an odd assortment of outerwear and are leaning into the wind as they make their way up the street from the bus stop. It is with a sigh of relief that they step through the door of Shalom House and into the warmth and the light.

It’s not really a house, but rather an old converted mechanics shop that has stood on a quiet street in Kansas City, Kan., for more than 20 years. Its unassuming exterior attracts no attention and most passersby don’t even know the building’s purpose, and yet the guests find their way here every night.

They are all men, ranging in age from their late teens to years past counting. They represent the entire spectrum of ethnicity and background, but like a band of brothers they are bound together by a common thread — the need for safety and shelter.

And that is what they find at Shalom House. Some may stay only a day or two; others for a week or more. All of them will tell you that Shalom House is the “best” place in town and many say they would rather be on the street than at another shelter.

You understand why when you step through the door. At first glance, you see humble and well-worn furniture: sofas that sag, chairs that wobble and a bay of bunk beds that are uncomfortably close together.

But then it hits you — the spirit of the place — and you know immediately that you are standing on sacred ground. This is a sanctuary and you can sense God’s mantle protecting it.

By 5:30 p.m., more volunteers have arrived to share food and fellowship with the men. Every day of the year a different group comes to prepare the evening meal. It’s “cook’s choice.” Whatever the volunteers choose to provide, the guests eat with gusto and gratitude. No one ever goes hungry. After dinner, the men perform KP duty, laundry is handed out and beds are assigned. By 8 p.m., the volunteers have gone and most of the guests have headed to the sleeping bay. The morning will come too early, and they will be back out in the cold to face another day.

If you have a roof over your head tonight and a bed to sleep in, give thanks to God for his rich blessing and pray for those who do not have even these most basic of things.

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