Before I embarked on my first-ever mission experience last weekend, I envisioned homeless adults, not homeless babies.
I was on short-term mission trip called Urban Plunge to the gang-ridden, low-income part of Omaha, NE, commonly referred to as North O.
There are homeless babies in North Omaha. Seven out of 10 residents there are considered poor, and this area has one of the highest number of children living in poverty in the U.S.
Urban Plunge is an inner city immersion experience in which teams of people volunteer at shelters and missions to feed the hungry, pray for the needy, break bread with the homeless and serve the poor.
I encountered homeless men and women who are not really that different from you and me, who have life stories, goals and families of their own.
I discovered numerous ministries operating day and night to make a difference, such as Angels on Wheels, a large team of individuals from a dozen churches, who minister to the physical and spiritual needs of the homeless.
Angels on Wheels vans transport people from shelters and darkened streets to a warm welcoming center, where they eat home-cooked food, watch movies, interact with volunteers, receive job training and take GED prep classes.
The Hope Center, a defender of children from neglect and gang violence, serves as a home-away-from-home for inner city youth, ages seven to19. This is an after-school program providing hot meals, recreation, mentoring and help with school work in a safe, nurturing environment.
Hope Center volunteers act as surrogate parents, who are involved in children's lives. They even attend school programs and go to parent-teacher conferences for children whose parents are absent or unavailable. The high school graduation rate in the North Omaha Public School District is approximately 48 percent, while Hope Center youth attending the same schools have a 93 percent high school graduation rate.
Deep within one impoverished neighborhood, where gang signs abound and the sound of gunfire can be heard, is the Mission for All Nations, another faith-based charitable organization. This program exists for the sole purpose of preventing homelessness and hunger. It represents the largest food pantry in Nebraska, feeding some 22,500 individuals nearly 500,000 meals annually.
At this mission, there's free food, clothing and shelter for people of all ethnic backgrounds who are on the fringes of poverty. Here, Urban Plungers prepared food boxes, sorted used clothing and processed applicants for pantry items. We also contributed blankets and hundreds of personal hygiene necessities donated by our churches.
On the way to Omaha's Eppley Airfield is the Open Door Mission, a Gospel Rescue Mission that meets the basic needs of the homeless and provides life-changing programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
This place never closes, as it serves more than 300 people daily with emergency temporary housing, long-term rehabilitation, recovery programs and transitional housing. At Open Door Mission, we sorted used clothes, stocked a free thrift store and ate lunch with homeless women and children.
We also went to Release Ministries, which resides inside the Douglas County Youth Jail, behind towering fences topped with coiled barbed wire and razorblades. This is where Chaplain Ron reaches out to incarcerated high-risk youth who are in the Juvenile Justice System. Through prayer, Bible study and mentoring, Chaplain Ron, a former inmate himself, ministers to young men and women with the goal of turning their lives around.
Before I went on my first-ever mission trip last weekend, I envisioned homeless adults, but not homeless babies. There are homeless babies in North Omaha. I held them, fed them, talked to them, played with them, strolled them and danced with them. I even sang to them….
If you or your church group would like to learn more about Urban Plunge, please call 402-592-8332 or visit www.urbanplunge.net.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took three first-place awards. To contact Paula, email firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her blog at www.my-story-your-story.blogspot.com and find her on Facebook.
2009© Paula Damon