LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Las Vegas burns and freezes — 110 degrees in the day and on some nights it dips into the teens. The city’s homeless and hungry feel every temperature shift in this desert where they go nights without shelter or sleep, find their food in garbage bins and wince from the coldness of fellow humans.
“You feel lower than low when you’re homeless,” says Cody Huffman, who was living on the streets and addicted to drugs just a few years ago. “At least people will talk to a dog on the street. If you’re homeless, you can’t get a drink of water or get cool when it’s 115 degrees outside because they’ll run you out.”
Huffman now volunteers with the hunger ministry at Rushing Wind Church, a biker congregation meeting at Sunrise Baptist Church in Las Vegas. “I want the homeless and destitute to know they are somebody with God.”
Mike and Janice Schwab, members of Rushing Wind Church, have also joined in caring for the homeless men and women in Las Vegas. A year ago the Schwabs were downtown when they were convicted by the great need in their city when their son offered all he had — a pack of crackers — to a man obviously cold and hungry.
The following week, the Schwabs showed up with hotdogs and hamburgers for a meager crowd. The next week, 20-30 hungry showed up. And each Wednesday since, at 6 p.m. in a vacant dirt lot near the Silver Bowl, the Schwabs have staked their ground with cooking, cleaning and dining equipment. They serve up spaghetti, hot dogs, and occasionally a celebratory cake for someone’s sobriety.
Those first few meals turned into a church-wide ministry, which relies on funds from donations and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Domestic Hunger Funds distributed through the Southern Nevada Baptist Association in order to feed the homeless.
This work doesn’t come without price and sacrifice for the Schwabs and their small group of volunteers. Wednesday’s outreach comes at the end of a long day for the couple. At the end of 12-14 hour days, the Schwabs come home spent but energetic about what God will do each week.
“If people can deal with the heat and cold all the time, then we can do it one night a week for a few hours,” says Janice.
“Being homeless takes away your dignity,” says Huffman, who gives a message each week while their guests eat. “My calling is to build these people back up.”
Because of its transitory nature, the homeless population makes follow-up and discipleship difficult. But in this case, four people have come to Christ, were baptized and are attending Rushing Wind Church.
“Four years ago I began living in the desert,” says Dawn. “I began waking up every morning looking for a way to feed my habit. I heard there was a place I could get something to eat.”
The church met her physical need and with that offered a cure for deeper cravings she found only fulfilled in Christ. They did the same for Anthony who “started using drugs at 13” and Bob, also a former addict.
“I have been a meth user and alcoholic for 30 years. I found myself homeless for the last five years,” says Bob. “I found myself living in the desert off Russell Road. I was never really into God. I started going to the services because I was hungry.”
Lisa started using crystal meth eight years ago. Thanks to the ministry at Rushing Wind Church, she’s now clean. “I still go to the park,” says Lisa, who has since landed a job and a home. “But I go as a volunteer.
“My life is lived for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Lisa. “I am living proof that all you have to do is give everything up to Him and He will change you.”
The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund gives people ears for the gospel by feeding hungry mouths. In 2008 alone, money given to the Domestic Hunger Fund served more than 5 million meals resulting in 36,000 professions of faith in Christ. More than 100,000 volunteers served at more than 2,000 hunger ministry sites throughout the U.S. funded by more than $1.26 million distributed by NAMB to Southern Baptist state partners.
According to Louann Aegerter, a North American missionary and ministry evangelism director for the Southern Nevada Baptist Association, NAMB hunger funds provided more than 92,000 meals through hunger ministries throughout the state.
Feeding the hungry is a ministry that everyone can participate in. Why not organize a group from your church to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter or with a missionary in your state. If you need help finding a place to serve, go to www.namb.net/hunger and click on state contacts to find your state’s hunger ministry contact person. They will be able to refer you to a ministry in your area. Also, monetary donations can be sent to the North American Mission Board, Hunger Relief, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, Georgia 30022 for hunger relief in North America. To learn more about starting, giving to or volunteering for a hunger ministry in your community visit www.namb.net/hunger.
How to fight hunger for $100 or less:
- $20 provides a food voucher for a migrant family through the Hope Baptist Migrant Ministry in Hope, Ark.
- $50 will fill 10 food boxes for the Edgewood Center in Roswell, N.M.
- $75 will feed one family for one week through the Tok Baptist Mission in Tok, Alaska.
- $100 will supply 200 meals for the homeless living in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., through the Tent-City Feeding Ministry.