Gateway Center

April 11th, 2013

Bec Cranford is the Volunteer Coordinator at Gateway Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

She originally came back home from seminary, to plant a church. Her roots are in Baptacostalism, and she  went through a time of transition in her theology from an emphasis on proclamation evangelism to social justice. Now, she finds herself exploring mainline polity.  (read Bec’s story and call to ministry here)

Bec works with groups and individuals who want to reach out and serve the homeless population in Atlanta. The orientation Bec and a group of interns provide volunteers is designed to help breakdown stereotypes, introduce volunteers to justice issues, and specifically learn ways they can take their experiences home. During orientation, persons from the  Atlanta Faces of Homelessness project, who are currently homeless or who have transitioned out of homelessness, share their stories.

Bec says, “Sometimes groups will come to do an urban missions week, wanting to focus on proclamation evangelism, and what we ask them to do is to take on the less blessed position.”

Oftentimes when we do charity or volunteer work we think we’re going to go give something to someone. We know it’s more blessed to give than to receive but Gateway asks volunteers to be less blessed. Even though volunteers may be donating their time or resources we ask them to be the recepients from the client's gifts.

Volunteers are often surprised and ask, “What can the homeless give me?” And Bec tells volunteers “clients can share about their faith, their culture or wisdom, their experience or maybe even a song or poem they have in their heart—and  that always touches people.”

We live in a fast paced culture and it’s easy to become judgemental. To challenge preconceived notions, Bec spends time with volunteers talking about the causes of homelessness. She integrates biblical theology in those conversations for example, the book of Job, and asks  “Was it Job’s fault that all that stuff happened to him?” This approach encourages volunteers to be more open to homeless people and what can be learned from them.

Volunteers have many different ways to serve at Gateway. They have specific work tasks like sorting donations, painting, or even working in a small garden area. Bec also gets volunteers involved in more relational activities. Once she had a youth group who manicured the ladies’ fingernails, or she might have volunteers bring beads and make necklaces with the children. The goal is to stretch volunteers a bit and providing a good educational experience. Everything the volunteers do is greatly appreciated!

The number of volunteers depends upon the month and season. Gateway has a lot of groups who want to volunteer during the holidays and summer breaks. Some groups come as part of an alternative summer break, urban missions projects, or educational experience.

Atlanta is a big school town, so many of the colleges and seminaries are involved, including campus organizations. Gateway also has internships through Shepherds Project, Mission Year, and others. Small and large churches volunteer and Gateway receives support from Atlanta-based businesses like Home Depot, Delta, and Coca-Cola

Bec works with over 9,000 individual volunteers annually and about a 100 more churches and businesses serving on a  weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. Of course placing volunteers keeps her busy, but there is always a place for someone to help out. Some of the best times are when people show up to do menial tasks or can just be there to listen to the clients.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How is your church reaching out to homeless people?

  2. What organizations, like Gateway, could your church volunteer with? 

  3. What preconceived notions and stereotypes do your members have about the homeless?
    If any.

  4. What has your experience been with being less blessed?
  5. How do you teach both proclamation evangelism and social justice in your church?

  6. Bec mentioned the book of Job, what other biblical stories could your small group begin to study and discuss?
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