Courtney and I have both committed significant portions of our lives to working with organizations in the Atlanta area that focus on the problem with homelessness. Courtney is on the board of Nicholas House, which is an organization dedicated to providing temporary housing to help homeless families address the root cause of their homelessness and never become homeless again.
This is significant because they are the only homeless organization in Atlanta that allows fathers and teenage boys to say with their families as they work through their homelessness. Every other organization separates fathers and teen sons from their mothers, sisters, and adolescent brothers.
I have been on the board of two different low income senior housing facilities and I currently serve as a board member at The Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta. I am particularly proud of the work we do at the furniture bank. Families who are transitioning out of homelessness, many of whom are involved with Nicholas House, get an apartment or other subsidized housing arrangement.
As you may expect, they do not have any furniture, nor do they have the financial means to acquire any furniture. So they are given vouchers to receive furniture at the furniture bank. There is a slight twist. We don’t just give them any old furniture.
Each family comes to the furniture bank with their vouchers and gets to shop in our warehouse for couches, chairs, end tables, and other necessary furniture. For many of them this is might be the first time in a long time that they have been able to to decide anything for themselves.
And, knowing that they likely are not able to transport all of this furniture to their new home, the furniture bank delivers it to them, free of charge. In order to deliver all this furniture we need delivery workers. To fulfill this need we hire homeless veterans for that task.
We pay for them to get their CDL license and train them how to deliver furniture with the goal of transitioning to full time employment with delivery companies around the Atlanta area. If they have substance abuse issues and are unable to obtain a CDL, we work with them to teach them how to recycle used mattresses in our warehouse.
I have been around homeless organizations for most of my life. In elementary school I regularly went to the Charles Stevens Center in Fayetteville to watch football on Sunday afternoons with the men who were staying at the shelter. In middle and high school our church hosted homeless families as a part of an Interfaith Hospitality Network.
Just before college I had the opportunity to work with Touching Miami with Love; a ministry for the homeless in Miami, FL. That week we put on a night of comedy for residents of a care facility for men and women who contracted AIDS and were homeless because their families had abandoned them.
But, in college I was first introduced to Habitat for Humanity. An organization dedicated to building homes for the poor and many times, people transitioning from homelessness or housing instability.
Read – Luke 2:1-7
I don’t know what it feels like to be homeless. I’ve done awareness sleep outs and most recently I slept in a tent for 40 nights on the rooftop deck of our home to celebrate my 40th birthday. But, I don’t know what it is like to be homeless.
In this day and age, I don’t even know what it’s like to arrive in a city and not have a place to stay. Between my cell phone and a network of friends around the world, I am fairly certain I could find myself a warm bed and a hot shower just about anywhere.
But a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph arrived in Bethlehem with no place to stay. The city was full, they were poor, and Mary was very pregnant. The only place they could find that would provide even a modicum of shelter and privacy was a barn.
Mary and Joseph left everything they knew in Nazareth to go to Bethlehem. They did not have a choice, pregnant or not, the decree went out and they obeyed. In 1942 two couples, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England also uprooted their lives as they relocated to Americus, GA.
That year they founded Koinonia Farm because of a call they felt to establish a community that would be an example to the world. Radical for the 1940s, they wanted to create an interracial community that reflected the communities they read about in the book of Acts.
Over the years the farm was subjected to terrible cruelty by the Ku Klux Klan, boycotts by the Whites of Sumter County, and calls from the local Chamber of Commerce to sell the farm and leave town. But in 1965 Millard and Linda Fuller visited.
Over the next few years through Millard’s leadership a plan was put in place to transform the Koinonia Farm into a social service organization and a new organization was born. Koinonia Partnership Housing would later become the organization known today as Habitat for Humanity.
The original idea was simple: start a “Fund for Humanity”, use the donations to buy materials needed to build a house, gather volunteers to do the manual labor to construct the house, and then provide families with a 0% interest loan to purchase their home. The proceeds from the loan payments would then be used to fund the building of new homes.
By 2003 over 150,000 homes have been built. Jimmy Carter, the former President of the United States, is one of the most famous Habitat for Humanity supporters and volunteers of all time. You would be hard pressed to find many people that had not heard of Habitat for Humanity.
Regardless of the Christian origin of Habitat for Humanity, homes are constructed each year by non-religious civic organizations, radio personalities, Atheist groups, schools, colleges, and millions of other people around the globe.
Several decades ago someone wrote a somewhat cheesy poem, the authorship is disputed, but you have likely heard it. It talks about a person looking back on their life in a dream. In this dream they are on a beach with Jesus. The beach represents their life. They turn around to look back on their life and see two sets of footprints in the sand in just about every inch of the beach.
The person looks closely, however, and notices something concerning. They ask Jesus, “You said that you would always be with me, why is there a single set of footprints in the sand during the hardest times of my life?” Jesus answers and says, “It was during these times that I carried you.”
Jesus parents left footprints in the sand on their way to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Like Clarence Jordan they were nobodies; obedient as the uprooted their lives to move to a different land. There was not much peaceful about starting over.
They arrived in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay, not even Mary’s advanced pregnancy could move anyone to allow them the peace and quiet of a rented room. They were shown to the stable where barn animals and their associated smells assaulted their senses. I imagine the dusty floor of the stable as Joseph and Mary moved around trying to make it comfortable.
Their feet dirty, leaving even more footprints in the sand as they tried to create a bed for Mary to rest. I think about what we call the “Miracle of Birth”. 2,000 years ago it must have been terrifying as Mary screamed in pain through each contraction. The animals becoming frightened, their hooves leaving their own prints in the sand and dirt. Josephs hurried footsteps as he paced between each contraction and Mary’s feet moving back and forth. Both of them leaving more footprints in the sand.
Clarence and Florence Jordan arrived in rural Georgia to build a community where they would treat the segregated Black Americans as their equals and live and work together as they believed God would have them to do. They endured attacks from business leaders, racist terrorists of the Ku Klux Klan, and boycotts of their livelihoods.
How many footprints did the Jordan’s leave in the dirt and soil of Americus as they tried to follow the will of God?
Mary and Joseph were fully human. They knew that Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead, but they did not live long enough to see what their footprints in the sand that night in Bethlehem would lead to. Sure, they were told what Jesus would be, but they only got a small glimpse of what the Angel promised.
Clarence Jordan died on October 29, 1969. He did not live long enough to see what Koinonia Farms would eventually become. Those thousands of footprints in the South Georgia soil that he left, just as the thousands of steps that Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem, would be magnified beyond his wildest imagination.
The footprints that Mary and Joseph left would grow into the Savior of the world. The turmoil and angst of his birth would transform the entire world forever.
Clarence Jordan’s footsteps, too, would leave a lasting impact on the world. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have homes today because of those faithful footsteps.
A neighbor of Clarence Jordan was asked about him in 1980, 11 years after he died. He said simply:
“He be gone now, but his footprint still here.”
Sing – Silent Night
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.