Open Table, Opens Doors

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Randy Buchman

As we work through this “For Our City” series, we are talking about having new and different attitudes toward those around us who struggle or who have fallen into misfortune or poverty, even homelessness. We know that many in our city are generationally impoverished, often never having had the background to learn or experience life-skills that yield success. It can become a cycle.

How do we as God’s people do something specific and positive to break these cycles and move people beyond a current life status? We can meet their immediate needs for a few meals or a few nights of housing. We might even subsidize some bills for food, housing or medical care. But how can we help to move them toward categorical change and sustained, self-supporting success?

REACH Director Jodie Ostoich considered these sorts of questions and found a ministry called “Open Table” that seeks to do this very thing. It is not merely about getting a person through a short window of time of immediate crises, but is rather also resourcing an individual to a new and sustainable way of live … truly moving them out of poverty.

The common need for people who are impoverished and even homeless is that they lack a network of relationships and connections to make positive change. Many social service organizations provide a piece of the pie for meeting needs, but what is needed is something to bring it all together. In the business world, this would be called a business plan or strategic initiatives.

A Christian businessman put together such a model in a real-life experience, and this has been modified into a repeatable ministry model for others to use particularly to help a person move from homelessness to self-sustainable operation. The idea is to bring a “table” of 8-10 individuals together to do what is needed to help a person with connections, assisting them to get beyond the speed bumps that will invariably inhibit progress toward what is a very large goal and mountain to climb.

For those of us who have never been in an impoverished condition of this sort, it is difficult to imagine the complications. Most of us would have family, friends, business and other connections (including lifelong skills) to bail us out of a disastrous downfall in life. But that is not the situation for many in homelessness or deep poverty.

At a recent “Open Table” meeting we had at Tri-State Fellowship, those who have done “a table” to help a client met in a circle with others interested in perhaps joining such a venture. The client helped over the past year was also in attendance. Impacting me in this discussion was a description of the complications that arise in this grand scenario for an individual. For every two steps forward, there might be three steps backward. As an individual becomes more self-sustaining, they may lose other resources such as government assistance. And now, after being highly responsible with a couple of part-time jobs, they no longer qualify for assistance programs and are suddenly actually further behind. And then there is the challenge of finding affordable housing, riding public transportation, getting to a couple of jobs, yet also meeting for a variety of appointments in varied locations to wrestle through remaining issues.

In all of these matters the folks who have come to be the “table” participants can provide assistance to get things accomplished. The “table” meets once a week with the client, providing a variety of items of practical assistance (connections, transportation, etc.) and advice.

Many who entered this process a year ago said that they really did not know how to do this or by what means they might assist, but all said that God used them in wonderful ways as the process moved along. They also commented that once you get to know someone individually who is in poverty, it changes and challenges the prejudices you may have had about the poor collectively.

Between REACH and a couple of churches (including TSF this past year), a total of six “tables” have been successfully completed. This is a ministry that can grow, and in fact it could serve other than homeless individuals – for example, those aging out of foster care or those re-entering society after prison, etc.

For those from TSF reading this, we are going to enter this again in the new year with one or more individuals. For those from other churches seeing this in our devotional series, for more information you may contact Kelli Tencer at REACH by calling 301-733-2371 x107.  There is a training program of three sessions of two hours each, along with all sorts of resources to make this a success.

As churches and Christians, we can’t just relegate these situations to the government to fix them. True and lasting changes can be actually better delivered by a group of God’s people who will set their love upon a hurting individual, thereby changing their lives (including the gospel) and thus being #ForOurCity in a most practical way.