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A Pastor’s Perspective

October 14, 2011

Good Shepherd Church’s Pastor Glen Wagner reflects on Sleep Out Saturday

Good Shepherd Church members
prepare for Sleep Out Saturday

Last year was our first year for Sleep Out Saturday. I think it will be our first of many. We had about 80 kids and about 20 adults. As a church, we are oriented to getting out and what we would say being the hands of feet of Jesus, so our church is very involved into rebuilding Aurora, sending people on mission trips, Hesed House… Sometimes we get 20 people involved, sometimes we can get 300 people involved. So [Sleep Out Saturday] is right in the middle zone.

I wouldn’t say I slept out – I would say I was out (laughingly)!

I think I probably did get about 30 minutes of sleep, which was interesting, because I thought about, “How do people do this day in and day out?” Sooner or later, everybody has to get some sleep, whether you’re homeless or not.

…actually laying down and going to sleep, I had this big green tarp that I wrapped myself into a sleeping bag and pulled the tarp over. You can hear everything, and you can feel every gust of wind, and it just wasn’t easy getting to sleep, but I was out there trying. You know, I was on a little pad, and had a sleeping bag, and had this tarp that I rolled up in. Some of them have tents, some have boxes, and I have seen some homeless people who don’t have either one of those.

Sleeping Out

I was moved by 80 high school kids saying, “Yes, I will willingly give up my Saturday because I want to learn about this…I want to learn about something.” That always moves me when kids take something seriously like that when they don’t have to; that’s really cool.

We had adults going around the parking lot for security, and realized that everything we’re doing, though we’re sleeping out, we’re still doing things that most homeless people don’t.

Most homeless people do not have a security guard walking around their tent, so about every hour I was learning three or four things…

We had a couple of families that did this as a family – Mum, Dad, 2 or 3 kids, younger kids – and throughout the night, Mum or Dad had to wake up to find the bathroom which we provided inside the church, and I thought, “OK, if you’re homeless where do you go to the bathroom?”

Even kids can make a change

 Then in the morning to see all these people stumbling around, looking for a place to brush their teeth and comb their hair…so literally 12 hours of immersion in this experience, and you realize that this is radically different from anything; there’s a whole list of things to be without, not just a roof, so it just sort of tears you up.

You know, it was tough and also good. As a church, we try and do things that connect with real people and try to be kind of authentic, and if there are loose edges, that’s just part of life; we don’t try and box it up. So I said, “Well, there are some homeless people who are employed and they have to get up the next morning and go to work.” So I thought, “OK, I’m going to get up and go to work,” and I led two services here, and I kind of prepared my message between 5 a.m. and 9 o’clock, and I think I said that morning, “I don’t know how this is going to come out; it might sound like the ramblings of a crazy man, as I haven’t had too much sleep, but here’s what I was thinking.” We were in the series on God’s Tapestry and how he weaves throughout our lives, and my particular topic that morning was the hiddeness of God. So, it was appropriate to lay there during the night and think, “Yeah, where’s God for the average homeless person? How does God work in something like this? Where is God in this?” So, that’s what I tried to talk about.

Sleep Out Saturday was very moving…it made a major impact, and it rippled throughout the church, and many people caught the vision, and this year I think we will have more people out there, and we really want to build on that, because yes, it made a huge impact on the kids.

Could you do it?
Could you NOT do it?

I don’t think I could not sleep out. One of the strategies for me, I didn’t just do it because I have such a great big heart; I also did it because it helps identify with the rest of the group that’s part of it. I was able to say I was out there, and for the kids it was important for the kids to say Pastor Glen was out there with us.

I wouldn’t miss it this year because it just taught me a lot and in the process it taught me a lot of things. This is not a Republican problem, a Democratic problem, a Christian problem, this is a human problem, and if we are Christians, part of what that means is to do things out of love for people you might not even know, so this gives us an opportunity to do something that might change something.

It started out fun, and it started out as a cool community thing to do, and then seeing a couple of groups in their cardboard boxes praying together and kind of talking … seeing their hearts transformed, and then to see those same kids sharing at the microphone and saying, this was really life transforming. Just to see the process of people’s lives transforming before your eyes, I will never get tired of that.

The other thing was actually waking up and going to work. And I think there are some homeless people who are working but they still can’t get out of their homelessness, so how do you do that for 5, 6, 7 days a week, because I was tired, I was a little bit angry, not at anyone in particular just there was just this little anger thing. To get up on this stage and try to minister to people and want to shake people, and then realize, “Stop it, stop it, just 24 hours ago you didn’t have a clue either,” so being in the moment when you’ve learned something and you want to help other people catch that vision and realize you have to do that slowly, thoughtfully, lovingly to see in my own heart barriers to what I didn’t see 24 hours before I started, it was a major “Ah ha!”

I would say as carefully as I can [to other ministers who won’t do Sleep Out Saturday] that it’s spiritual malpractice not to do this. It’s bad. Jesus regularly got out of his comfort zone. He broke ethnic barriers, age barriers, gender barriers, theological barriers to move out to include people into his radius of care, and for us to be in the suburbs, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and realize that maybe 1 out of 20, 1 out of 10 people around us are experiencing something like that and not doing something about that is really saying I think I want to put blinders on, and any church that does that…

You Can Make a Change!

I can’t think of a better way to keep your church passionate, loving, caring, to keep your hearts tender toward God, than to have your heart broken by the things that break God’s heart. I can’t think of a better way to do that than to say to folks, “Let’s grab your sleeping bags and let’s sleep in the parking lot on Saturday night.” Because not one of the 100 people had anything bad to say. Every single one of them said, wow, that was hard, inconvenient, and I’m so glad I did it, it changed my life.

If churches are in the life changing business then to avoid this is not a good thing. It’s doable. November is peak busy season for churches. You’re just getting ready to head into Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and all that stuff. We were super busy, but because we did Sleep Out, it added something to our message for the next several weeks, months, it helped transform ministries. It brought vision in.

Jesus said you’ve got to care for the least of these, and I can’t think of a better example.

Sleep Out Saturday. Make a change.

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