Every church wants to reach its community. Every church wants to help. Every church desires to see God at work — transforming people miracle after impossible miracle. But how do we do the impossible? Where do we start?
There’s a saying that’s sometimes attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
My church wanted to assist the domestic violence and sexual assault services at the YWCA of Genesee County, Michigan. The YWCA has been serving our community for decades and was located in an old, dilapidated building — one that had been ordered for demolition. Recently, the YWCA changed its focus from traditional services to center its work on its domestic violence shelter. YWCA leaders decided to place these ladies in a safe environment that would be updated and would help them be empowered. They said they needed to move away from the broken furniture, unreliable heating and cooling, and the eyesore of a building. They needed to relocate, and so they leased a new building.
Our church realized that the YWCA already possessed gifted and experienced counselors who didn’t need our assistance in their domestic violence program. But the YWCA did need our help preparing for the daunting task of relocation. So we agreed to do what was necessary — not what we wanted.
I toured the YWCA building on a hot afternoon in late April. The need was great. Decades of accumulation left the building pregnant with items of varying value: antique tables and chairs, apartment furnishings from the shelter, a silver-plated banquet service, locker rooms, office equipment, a closet full of antique luggage, commercial kitchen equipment, and a freestanding sauna. This eight-story building was bursting at the seams with thousands of items. The YWCA wanted to move the useful items to the new location, sell any items of value, and trash the rest.
After hours of categorizing, I felt overwhelmed. What could our church do? There was no way we could accomplish this task, but there was no way we could quit now.
We added this project to our “Serve our City 2016” community service Sunday. A team of more than 40 volunteers arrived on-site — sacrificing a normal Sunday worship experience to serve the YWCA. We moved heavy furniture. We categorized several items for an online auction (the brainchild of one of our members). An older church member manned a clipboard and sent every item to its corresponding room. Others promised to return the next weekend to finish the leftover work.
Little by little, we finished a seemingly impossible job. While working behind the scenes, we never met a victim of domestic abuse (our original outreach goal). But we encouraged the staff, sacrificed our time and resources, and prepared the YWCA for a $10,000 income through the online auction. We accomplished what was possible for our volunteers, and God set us up to witness something miraculous.
My favorite story from the YWCA project was meeting Brenda (not her real name). Brenda was eager to help us on moving day. She and I were moving an office desk into the ancient elevator. We were crammed into this small space for a few minutes while we were lowered to the basement. I asked Brenda, “Why do you work at the Y?”
She told me about her new position as a counselor to a couple of young ladies in the shelter. She smiled about her newfound purpose guiding and helping these ladies. “This is why I work here.” Brenda said. “I wish there was a place like this when I was younger. I am a victim of domestic violence, and, although I don’t go to church, your willingness to help here has given me hope. That is a kind of church I would like to go to.”
As the elevator door opened and we returned to the urgent task of moving this heavy desk, I remembered our original desire to help domestic violence victims. We never got to see the YWCA shelter in action, but as we heeded St. Francis’ words, God produced a miraculous opportunity for our church to encourage and empower someone — a woman who is giving back to the ladies that we initially wanted to serve. We helped out where we were needed, and when we accomplished what was possible for us, God did the impossible.
Shane Bengry is the pastor of connection and community outreach for the Davison Free Methodist Church in Davison, Michigan.