34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 31-40, NIV
Isn’t it amazing how some of the greatest lessons we learn come from those to whom God sends us to minister? That is the experience of the Reverend Denise Cunningham-Doggett, Senior Pastor of Lake Shore Christian Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to becoming pastor of a church, for approximately 21 years, Rev. Denise worked in various capacities and ultimately as the Executive Program Director for Family Promise of Greater Cleveland. Also known as “New Life Community,” Family Promise is a transitional housing ministry that assists homeless and jobless individuals with gaining employment and housing.
In today’s Shepastor, Rev. Denise shares some insights and experiences regarding the blessing of ministry in the midst of the homeless and indigent population in the Greater Cleveland area…
Rev. Denise Cunningham-Doggett, Senior Pastor
Lake Shore Christian Church
On last week I hosted the 8th Annual Luau for the Graduates, current residents, volunteers and staff for Family Promise of Greater Cleveland, fka New Life Community. Family Promise is a transitional housing facility on the east and west sides of Cleveland where we assist homeless, jobless families to transition to self- sufficiency by obtaining fulltime housing and employment. The homeless families stay at our Eastside location for 16 weeks until they find housing and employment. I have worked there for 21 years as the Assistant to the Development Director, Business Manager, Executive Director and Program Director. In my many years of working there I have always been humbled by working with the indigent population and the support that they have needed for self-esteem. Many times when working there, people would inquire of me, “As a minister do you get to preach there at your job?” I would always say in my office there is a sermon or a life lesson that I learn from the people. On many occasions I would prepare the women for a job search and help them get job ready by having them “dressed for success.” We have a boutique upstairs where I have cultivated a wardrobe of gently worn, quality clothes for the clients to wear for job interviews.End Quote
On one particular day, I answered a phone call at the receptionist’s desk and inadvertently took off my jack at that desk. Now, what I need to tell you about that jacket is that I referred to it as my “power jacket”… as a matter of fact, I looked pretty good in that black jacket and got lots of compliments in it when I wore it! On the way out to do a presentation on behalf of a grant I’d written for the shelter, I asked my secretary, “ Have you seen my black jacket? I seemed to have misplaced it.” After we looked a couple of places, I started to believe maybe I had left it in my car. I didn’t worry. As a professional I usually have 2 jackets in my offices to wear just in case I might need one of them. I believe in being a role model for young women, telling them how we have raised the standard and the importance of wearing the best that we have to wear when going on an interview, to school to visit our children, and in our community.
As I was getting ready to leave, one of the clients came running in my office. She was so excited to share the good news that she just had a job interview and believed that she was going to get a second interview. I couldn’t listen to her very closely because I was so intrigued that she was looking so nice! As she was talking to me I then realized that she had on MY favorite “power jacket!” I could not say very much because she was looking far better in that jacket than I ever did. But I remember thinking to myself, "That is my favorite jacket that you have on!" But I didn’t say a word to her.
God used that moment to minister to me about giving the best that we have to people. Many times I was the one to lead discussions with church and/or business organizations appealing to them to give quality donations to help homeless women. On that day, I believe God let the scripture from Matthew 25:36-40 about the Sheep and the Goats come alive in my heart...
“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink;
I was stranger and you took Me in;
I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.
…..”Lord, when did we see You hungry and fed You, or thirsty and gave You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and took You in, or without clothes and clothed You? When did we see You sick, or in prison and visit You?...
…And the King will answer them, “I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you have done as unto me.”
As I was going through my own stuff about that jacket, God was reminding me to let it go….and not say anything about that jacket. The jacket didn’t have all the power that I thought it had. I needed to let it go and be alright that someone else was wearing it that really needed it. Jesus has a way of teaching us to release things that are really not that important. What I really learned is that I have several jackets and more that I could let go of to help someone else. The greatest blessing of the “power jacket story,” was in a few days the “praise report” came back that the client wearing my jacket got the job!
One of the exciting events that we hold at the Center is a Luau. Many homeless and indigent families come each year to fellowship, have fun, receive school and self-care items etc., all while enjoying the Luau. This past year, it was also exciting to see the aforementioned client at the Luau. She came late, getting off the bus with her 3 children, excited to be able to say she had to work late that evening. I’m glad to report that 4 years later she has remained in the same housing and is still maintaining her employment. The client expresses gratitude that she is no longer homeless.
I share that story because of the lessons I learned through the homeless people that I got to chance to minister to daily. Through them, God reminded me that I had an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus by touching their lives. I also learned that they touched my life as well.
Rev. Denise Cunningham-Doggett, Senior Pastor
Lake Shore Christian Church
Speak Life Ministries
What a powerful story! Power does not reside in the things we possess, but the love of Christ in our hearts, made manifest through our willingness to give to others.
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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,