December 2011 – She crouched in a crevice of a Memphis building, wearing tattered sweat clothes and shoes with no socks.
“I just need a blanket, a jacket, something to keep me warm,” she pleaded. The members of the ministry team looked at each other helplessly. A simple meal was all they had to offer. Tears came when they told her.
“It’s so cold,” she cried. “It’s so cold.”
“We couldn’t walk away without doing something to give her hope,” said Aaron Fisher, leader of the Least of These Ministries prayer team. “We bought a heavy sleeping bag, two pairs of gloves and two pairs of heavy wool socks. I got on my knees, took her shoes off and spread the socks over her feet. With relief and pure joy on her face, she hugged every one of us and lay down in the sleeping bag. That night defined the Least of These Ministries for me.”
Week after week, the members of LTM traipse the streets of downtown Memphis, Tennessee. They come after the streets have been abandoned by all but those who suffer unseen in the darkness. By that time, everyone who has a home to go to has gone to it, and only the homeless, the drug dealers, the gangs and the prostitutes are left. And they are the ones LTM comes to see: “the least of these.”
The inspiration for this ministry came when Chris Jones, once homeless himself, participated in homeless ministry while on a mission trip at the New York School of Urban Missions in New York City.
“It was seeing all the homeless people who don’t have anything and wanting to help them,” Megan, Jones’ daughter, said. Chris and Megan Jones became co-founders of LTM, drawing their inspiration from Matthew 25:31-46, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Their first night on the Memphis streets, they took two dozen sandwiches and a case of bottled water. Two years later, they use 10 to 11 loaves of bread and 4 cases of bottled water weekly. Originating in Blue Mountain, Mississippi, the ministry is primarily centered in northern Mississippi. However, it receives support and donations from churches as far south as Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, as well as Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama. LTM has planted a homeless ministry in New Orleans, and they plan to do the same in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Little Rock, St. Louis and Chicago.
Working side by side are a Southern Baptist pastor’s daughter, the son of a missionary to Africa and a former gang member. But they all have one thing in common: They have found hope in Christ and desire to share that hope with those who are forgotten, ignored and cast out by society.
“We were also these things,” Jones said, “yet Christ came to serve us in love. Least of These is how we can best demonstrate His love for all people.”
Matt Kline, LTM’s worship leader, said, “Being from Memphis, I’ve always wanted to go back and do something to help. I was never homeless, but I lived a lifestyle that could have put me there. God changed my life before it got to that point and I know God can change theirs.”
That is what Least of These is all about, not just feeding the hungry, but restoring lives. Jones said, “God uses us to restore a sense of self-worth, value, dignity and hope so someone will say, ‘I am worth more than this. You make me not want to do this anymore.’ If we have that effect on one person a year, it’s worth going every weekend.”
Jones urges finding a need and becoming involved in local ministry. “As a Christian, you’re a missionary,” Jones said. “You’re required to serve people, to be witnesses and to share His love. All it takes is a group of like-minded believers coming together to be obedient to what they’re commanded to do.”
New York School of Urban Missions (www.nysum.org, 718-204-6471) is a short-term teaching and training center for Christians with a heart for urban ministry. Through a combination of urban training, onsite practical ministry and actually living in a city neighborhood, NYSUM trains Christians to reach people in cities around the world for Christ. Groups come to NYSUM from across the United States, Canada and abroad. Visit the NYSUM Web site for a schedule of upcoming training and ministry opportunities.