“My dad says, ‘Love is the God in you meeting the God in someone else’ . . . Room in the Inn lets people know they are loved.”
— Becky Christensen, RITI volunteer
Home is where the heart is, and there’s no place like it. While we don’t all have a physical location to call our own, that doesn’t mean we can’t find a home away from home. Love will make room — even if only for one night. When Mary and Joseph traveled to the little town of Bethlehem, there was no place for them in the inn. So after Jesus was born, Mary wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger (Luke 2:7). That night, they made a home away in a manger where Jesus could sleep peacefully.
For those who don’t have a place to call home, each day presents new challenges beyond our wildest imaginations. And in the hot summer months, the threat to these people in our community rises along with the extreme Texas temperatures. From sunburns to dehydration and more, the heat is unrelenting. Just as Mary and Joseph did for Jesus, FUMCFW and First Street Methodist Mission are making their own “room in the inn.” During the two hottest months of the summer, in addition to the three coldest months of the winter, Room in the Inn (RITI) provides shelter for 14 single men who are homeless. For one night every Thursday, these men can rest easy in our care.
Rev. Nancy Froman, Special Ministries Coordinator for First Street Methodist Mission, says that RITI is a chance for our guests to take a break from the burdens of a homeless night. From finding shelter for sleep to protecting themselves from the outdoor elements to staying safe from harm, a typical night for these men doesn’t leave much room for sweet dreams. “It’s more of a treat than just shelter,” Nancy explains. “We’re not solving the problem of homelessness — we’re giving a night of comfort.” Beyond that, guests can spend a night among friends. “It’s a safe place to stay for the night with a hot meal and a hot shower and clean sheets,” Nancy adds, “but more than that it is a place to feel welcome and find community, and some have even said they felt like they found family.”
RITI volunteers help with a range of tasks from making beds to bringing dessert to doing the laundry. “Each is very important,” Nancy declares. “However, I think the best thing about Room in the Inn is the interaction with the guests.” Through the years, she recalls spending hours talking to people about family and faith, looking at pictures of grandkids, laughing about sports rivalries, and watching movies together — and enjoying every second of it. “You feel like you’ve made a friend,” Nancy says. “It’s more than serving a meal — it’s friendship.”
She points out that RITI is really different than other volunteer programs because of the one-on-one time you spend with guests; it’s a personal time and it’s very rewarding. “Every Sunday morning we’re serving up to 80 people for breakfast, and it feels like us and them, but for Room in the Inn we’re all on the same level,” she adds. “They love the home-cooked meals, but they really love feeling human and feeling the friendship and warmth of the hospitality.” From Nancy’s perspective, RITI is one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences.
Becky Christensen has been an RITI volunteer for several years. As a regular volunteer at the Mission, Becky has gotten to know some of the guests from other programs. She agrees with Nancy that what’s special about RITI is the personal time you get to spend building relationships with each other. For instance, Becky remembers that she and one of the guests got to talking about their shared love for Sonic ketchup. From then on, she started a tradition of giving him extra packets from her trips to the drive-in. “You share so much,” she says. “It’s little things (like ketchup) that build up to one big thing.”
According to Becky, it’s very important for the guests and volunteers to realize they are humans — just like everyone else. She says she wants other volunteers to know that the guests are screened prior to RITI, and they are not allowed to leave once they are inside. “I can’t recall a time of ever having any kind of problem, and I’ve volunteered for many years, both summer and winter,” Becky proclaims. “Plus, we are a team. The people you are working with are very caring or they wouldn’t be there.” She says it’s like the Bible verse from Matthew 25:
“. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
“We’re their family, and even if it’s just for 30 minutes they’ve had somebody care about them for that one night,” Becky explains. She says that she likes the idea of passing it on and showing love. “I believe in what my dad says: ‘Love is the God in you meeting the God in someone else,’” Becky declares. “I love that thought. I think love is important, and to know you are loved is important. To me that’s one thing Room in the Inn does is let them know they are loved. When you do that you are giving but you get back as much as you give. You don’t know that going in, but that’s my belief.”
Throughout RITI, the only warmth our guests feel comes from love. It’s more than a hot meal and shower — it will kindle their heart and soul. From making beds to serving food to sharing faith stories, our volunteers are the innkeepers whose love makes room for more. As Nancy says, “Just like the Biblical Mary and Joseph, we all do our part for the greater good.” Summer RITI starts in July, and the next Volunteer Training session is May 26 from 6:00 – 7:30 pm in the Justin Building. Sign up now — this is your chance to help make our guests feel at home.