A couple of weeks ago, at church in Madison, we heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In the end, Jesus said "Unbind him and set him free".
As we were leaving, the man walking out next to me turned to his wife and said, "We just don't see miracles like that today". I have to disagree.
For the last 10 years, this thing called GIFTS has been one miracle after another. The startup, the growth, the transformation that we've seen could not have been accomplished by man alone.
It started out with a beautiful simplicity. God told us "Love your neighbor as yourself". When we listened to Him, we had no choice but to obey. In November 2007, we decide to act. We thought we'd have a sleepover in a church to help get men out of the cold Wisconsin winter for a few nights.
I remember that first public meeting in November 2007. We invited as many clergy as we could find to the Pontiac Convention Center to unveil our big idea. I remember closing the presentation with these words. "Folks, I'm here to tell you that in 5 years, in 10 years, Janesville and the world will be a better place because we didn't just listen, we heard. And we didn't just hear, but we acted".
Father Randy Timerman, from St. John Vianney church heard God's call. He had no choice but to obey. He volunteered his church as the first host site for the sleepover and he wanted it to be born on the same day as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On Christmas Eve, 2007, less than 2 months after the idea was planted, we opened our doors for the first time. We had 10 men show up that night. Miracle
We had no idea what we were doing. We just knew that, like Christ, we wanted to love God's children. We found out in a hurry that God would guide us and provide everything we needed. We had donated air mattresses, donated blankets and pillows, donated food and enough loving Christians to take care of everything. We borrowed a truck from Acts Of Kindness to move the shelter from church to church. Miracles.
Back then, we would have a board meeting every week. Every week, it seemed was crisis back then. I remember Sandy Petranek would start every meeting with a prayer and then say, "Dear Lord, Thank You For The Crisis." We had great faith that, if we did our part, God would make sure that the details were taken of. We started with 4 churches. Sometimes, we get to Friday afternoon and have no idea where we would put the men when they had to move on Sunday. But every week, I'd get a call from another church and they'd say "Bring them here. We can provide for them for a week". Miracle.
We were open from October through April.
By the fall of 2009, we had 14 host sites and 15 partner churches. We saw Episcopalians working with Lutherans. We saw Baptists working with Methodists. We saw Catholics working with The Church of Christ. Miracle
St. Williams Blanket Story - Miracle.
One of the biggest Miracles happened in April 2012. After 5 years, we figured that this GIFTS thing just might work. We decided that we needed a part-time Executive Director. Most of the volunteers that had been doing all the administrative work also had full-time jobs and it was just getting too big. So, God brought this bright young firecracker to us from Rockford. She had no choice but to obey. God is like that sometimes. We had 4 people on our search team, interviewing applicants. As soon as we met Stephanie Burton, we all said, "Game Over". We knew she was a gift from God. Miracle.
With Stephanie at the helm, God guided her. Sometimes she listened and obeyed. Sometimes God pushed her face first into new areas, and sometimes He would drag her kicking and screaming and crying. Always, she had no choice but to obey. This was God's miracle and no human was going to stop it. Today, she is resigned to that fact. She just says "OK God. Your plan. Just show me how".
The changes in the last 6 years, as we've learned and grown and listened have been amazing. The A-Team, which used to be just a couple of folks that would hand out Trac-Phones, has blossomed into a life changing force. Each guest has a mentor that will help develop a life improvement plan. The guys have access to technology and classes to develop real-life skills. It's no longer just a hand out. It's a hand up. Miracle
The Resource Center opened in 2013, providing 1/2-day services during the shelter season. In 2014 the Resource Center goes to full day service. Life Improvement plans are created for each guest and Social Workers and A-Team members assist and connect guests with resources to help them obtain their goals. In 2015, the shelter and the Resource Center became year-round. - Miracle.
In November 2017, God blessed us with 1025 N. Washington St. A permanent home for the shelter and the Resource Center. We are no longer a homeless homeless shelter. - Miracle
In February of this year, God dropped another bombshell. GIFTS received a gift of large Victorian home with 8 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. This is being as a Life Recovery House, to help guests that qualify transition back into being productive members of society. - Miracle.
Folks, GIFTS has always been about relationships. First, our relationship with God and our willingness to listen to Him. Second, our relationship with the guys. Whether it's a church lady proudly serving her best lasagna and being thanked by the guys for a great meal, or an A-Team member sitting down for an hour each week to mentor and guide someone. This is about relationships. The experience of being involved with GIFTS is life-changing for everyone.
So next Sunday, as I'm walking out of church, and I see that gentleman and his wife, I'm going to pull them aside and say, "Let me tell you about a couple dozen miracles that are happening right now, today".
When Jesus says, "Unbind him and set him free", He will show us how and we have no choice but to obey.