Charlene Falkner of Advent UMC of Las Vegas, Nevada offered the following witness at our 2017 District Conference – it is inspiring how the Spirit engages and connects us to do amazing ministry of transformation. . .
My mother, Eileen Sager, was a Customer Claims Representative for the Social Security Administration in North Las Vegas. Many of her claimants were homeless, and she needed to DO something for them. But, she didn’t know what “that” would be. So, she asked “What can I do for you?” The overwhelming response was just a pair of socks. It could make the difference of surviving a winter night, when your primary residence is the corner of Lake Mead Boulevard and Civic Center Drive.
When she retired, Eileen started a one woman mission, this was a solo project. A gift to her community, a life lesson for her children and grandchildren. Every Christmas Mom purchased 100 pairs of socks, baked cookies, and bundled them together with a candy cane. (My daughter pointed out that I should add, my Mom was NOT a “bake cookies for the family” type of Grandma). There were a lot of “keep your hands out of those sweets, they are not for you” moments.) These little care packages were hand delivered by her family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
During one of these outings, we pulled into the parking area of the Salvation Army on Owens, thinking we would turn around and be ready to leave. But we were swarmed by people who knew we were handing something out from the car. There were many more people than we had packages for. That was when we met Sergeant Eric Fricker from Metros Help Unit. We told him our story and he asked if he could follow us home and speak with my Mom. He told her that even with the best intentions, going into the homeless corridor was extremely dangerous for her family. But, he offered an amazing option. For many years we partnered with the Help unit, they would come to us and pick up the packages and use them when doing their daily wellness checks on the homeless population at the railroad tracks and in the tunnels.
Then a couple of major bumps hit our God destined path. My Mom died in 2002, some of her last words to me were to keep this mission going. Several of my friends jumped in to help, Moms mission became their service project. The cookie baking stopped, we realized just what a health hazard we might be between allergies, and not having food handler cards. But the number of socks increased. Then Sergeant Fricker was reassigned and the Help Unit disbanded.
This was about the time that my family began attending Advent. I shared this story with Pastor Dennis Hutson and our congregation. Knowing that we could do so much more together, I asked Advent to match the number of socks my family purchased. If we brought 200 pairs of socks, the congregation would bring 200 pairs of socks.
We were back to handing them out from cars. But, it seemed safer somehow, several cars and parishioners, we would be done in under an hour.
In 2009, Advent joined with the Nevada Homeless Alliance and became providers at the annual Project Homeless Connect event in the Giveaway section. The first year, I was by myself at the sock table. Overwhelmed, under prepared and with no emotional defenses. It brought all home, the reason my Mom was so committed. We are so blessed, our God has been so good to us…all he asks us in return is to show compassion and love. So simple. The 400 pairs of socks were gone within an hour. I packed up my supplies and went home feeling defeated. I was doing more than my mother asked of me, but not nearly what My Heavenly father expected.
I shared that experience at Advent. The overwhelming response…we need to do more. Since then, we upped the total socks 2,500 and several members of Advent have joined me working the event. It is amazing to watch them in action. I watch as all of my friends are deeply impacted by their participation. Prayers are asked for, and offered, the touch of a hand, eye contact, respect from both sides, heartfelt thank yous and God Bless Yous.
Over the last 7 years, Advents ministry has been responsible for well over 15,000 pairs of socks. One of those years the Annual Conference had a sock drive and Advent was able to add the socks sent to Southern Nevada to the event. Advent provides enough that at the end of the event, when all the food, clothing and hats and scarfs are gone, the customers will walk away with at least one pair of socks. If for some reason my family was to leave Las Vegas, I know that Advent would carry on at Project Homeless Connect. Eileen’s sock mission has become Advent’s ministry.
This last year my roll changed at Project Homeless Connect. I was asked to be the Coordinator for the Giveaway section. The decision to do this did not come easily. Probably the most frightening question came from a member of my church….what qualifies you to take this leadership roll? What is your past experience, or education in sociology or psychology. I am a computer technician….so, my answer was? Passion, and because my Mother may have put my feet on this path, but God put has shown me the way and given me the strength to move forward. And that’s all I really need. True compassion for those in need, and obedience to God.
Early this Spring, Sue Coladarci, a member of University UMC, and I met with our local pastors and presented a couple of ideas on behalf of Project Homeless Connect. One was for a Pastoral Care booth in the Provider Section. The other was for a district wide blanket ministry for the Giveaway Section. Knowing that each one of our congregations has its own missions and ministries, I knew that this was going to be a difficult thing to ask for. I did receive responses, but no blankets from our conference. But, I didn’t give up, because the Lord wasn’t going to let me.
Faith, and more prayer for the right words when I needed to ask for help. Understanding when it didn’t come from where I thought it should, and grace when the Lord provided me strength to stand in front of rooms of professional care providers and say “We have needs in the Giveaway section…will you help?”. That help came in unexpected ways. Several of them said, we do not have the budget to purchase blankets – but we will put on blanket drives for our employees.
One of the many letters I wrote made it into the hands of the Las Vegas Swim Club. The Pastoral Care booth was a huge success and in great demand, out of 150 providers present, it was the third most request. In the Giveaway section we had over 600 blankets from a grass roots effort. Well short of the 3,000 I had envisioned….but as I stood at the event and looked at the tables laden with generous donations from other faith based communities in Las Vegas and a couple of major corporations – my eye caught on Advent’s sock table with over 3,000 pairs of socks and on to the blanket table – 600 blankets in the first year. I think my mom would be proud, and I am comforted by the feeling that God knows I am giving Him my best.