Has your life, job or ministry ever become so overwhelming and difficult that you felt like giving up? Before I began working at the Topeka Rescue Mission, I endured some great challenges that caused me to want to throw in the towel and walk away from it all. As I overcame, however, God used each one of the miracles in the midst of my trials to strengthen my faith and prepare me for what laid ahead. The following account serves as a powerful memory marker for me to recall when the responsibilities of the Mission became seemingly too immense…
When I first surrendered my life for the sake of ministering the Gospel full-time, I had a grand vision for my future. Because I walked away from everything comfortable in my life to follow the Lord, I thought my surrender would be rewarded with a life of exciting adventure filled with the abounding joy of saving the world. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Within months, I was depressed, discouraged and angry at God. I wanted to run away and quit. I believe the only reason I didn’t was because of something I heard a professor of mine share.
He shared with our class the story about the Israelites and how they frequently murmured and complained; wanting to return to their bondage because they believed their oppression was greater than what they were experiencing. My professor shared that, in ministry, we too would be tempted to murmur, complain and desire to go back to where we once were. However, he reminded us that if we did we would be returning to nothing more than bondage. Though I was miserable in my current circumstances, I really did not want to return to a place of captivity from which the Lord had drawn me out.
In time, I learned that before we can do great things for God, we must become bankrupt of ourselves so that we can become fully dependent on Him. For me to be able to endure the tests and challenges that would come my way in the future, I had to first go through some fiery trials where my faith could be refined. It was during those first years at the Mission that I was frequently reminded of the many lessons I had already learned and the ways in which God always remained faithful to provide.
One such memory marker was Christmas of 1980. Had this experience and others like it not taken place, I’m not sure I ever would have had the faith to step forward in managing a homeless shelter that I knew nothing about.
The parsonage my wife and I lived in was cold and drafty. It was also located in a rough, impoverished and crime-ridden area of Kansas City where we knew no one. In all our lives, I’m not sure we had ever felt so alone. We had little income, no food, and no presents under our artificial tree. My father was dying of cancer and Tami was nine months pregnant, expecting our first child.
Our circumstances were bleak, but a glimmer of excitement shone in our hearts as we anticipated Christmas Day. We had made plans with family and would be enjoying the day in Topeka celebrating the joy of Christ’s birth. However, our plans quickly shifted when, on Christmas morning, I woke up with the stomach flu.
With every part of my being ravaged with pain, combined with the dark realities already in front of me, I quickly became even more depressed. Tami tried to cheer me up, but to no avail. In a prayer of bitterness, I cried out to God, “So this is how You take care of people who have said they will serve You? You let them be broke, sick and unable to celebrate Christmas? You give them a father as a best friend, only to let him die of cancer? A wife who is pregnant with no food to eat and no money to buy it? And all this on Christmas? Really?” I fumed in my anguish and was sure He had turned a deaf ear.
We had $1.90 to our name. By this time, Tami could hardly fit behind the wheel of our tiny car, but she squeezed herself in and drove down to the gas station. She came back with a small bottle of Pepto-Bismol and a bottle of 7-Up. For lunch that day we dined on 7-Up and crackers, while I drank the pink medicine.
Tami was so pregnant she could hardly move, but her attitude remained positive and was truly commendable. On the other hand, I, all day long, chose to wallow in my self-pity while complaining to both her and God.
An unexpected knock on the door came around four o’clock, interrupting my saga of gloom. As we opened that door, we were greeted by a man and a woman standing there in the cold. We recognized them as neighbors from down the street. They knew we were going to the Bible School since we were staying in the old parsonage beside the church. They also had not seen us go anywhere or have anyone come by on this special day and wondered about us. “So,” they said, “God placed it on our hearts to bring Christmas to you.”
In their arms, they held leftovers from their Christmas meal. The crackers we were saving for dinner were soon replaced with warm turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and pumpkin pie. They said they had experienced a really nice Christmas that morning and they wanted to share with us.
They had taken the wrapping paper that had been on their presents and reused it to wrap presents for us. Inside several packages were food items and baby toys for our daughter who would be arriving shortly. All the items were used, but in good condition. Even though there were no stores open, this couple had taken what they had available and given it to us.
They smiled as they told us they appreciated what we were doing with our lives and that they felt God had shared His blessings with them so that they could share them with us. I was convicted, humbled and deeply grateful.
God clearly spoke to me that day and let me know that, even in the midst of my complaining and woe, He had not forgotten about me. “In spite of what you will go through,” He said, “I will always meet you there.” What started as the worst, turned out to be the best Christmas I’d ever had.
From that day forward my faith in God was strengthened and my trust in Him changed. It was obvious for where He was taking me that I needed to experience a number of lessons in faith. Prior to that event and others similar, I would have never had enough stamina to remain standing in the midst of the challenges I have since faced. How could I trust God to provide for others if I had never experienced great need and His provision for myself? I learned from His faithfulness and this couple’s sacrifice that there would always be hope, as long as I was walking with Him.
One of my favorite promises in scripture is that God will work all things out according to the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I now believe, after meeting so many unique individuals, that each one of us are called with a God-given purpose in life. There is no one on this earth today that is purposeless in God. If we say yes to the Lord and begin walking with Him, this promise is one we can always be assured of.
I once lived in poverty and experienced great lack. I watched my family question as we wondered where our next meal would come from. I remember the anxiety I felt when the bills came and there was no money to pay them. I remember the sleepless nights wondering if I had missed God and questioning if things would ever change. However, I can look back now and know with all certainty that even through those trials, there was great purpose. Had I turned my back on the ministry and given up hope, I would have never experienced the richness of His miraculous provision, the best Christmas of my life, or the privilege of leading the Topeka Rescue Mission that stands as a testimony of God’s goodness today.
There may be some unpleasant circumstances you are living in now. While they are rarely enjoyable as we go through them, we can find hope in His promise that each one will be turned around and used for the good. May your eyes shift from the despair of your current circumstance to the hope of tomorrow that lies just within your reach. †
– Barry Feaker
‘The Best Christmas’ is re-printed from chapter 5 “In Darkness, a Light still shines.” If you haven’t read this collection of 52 Stories of Hope, copies are available at the Main Shelter, Thrift Store and Boutique on the Boulevard.