Hope for Heather
When Heather (not her real name) came to The Salvation Army’s O’Fallon Family Lodge, shelter, she was best described as adrift. She was not only homeless. Addiction and mental illness had cut all the moorings from her life. She was disconnected from God, from her family, and even from her children.
Part of every shelter resident’s stay is a meeting with our pastors, Major Paul and AmyJo Ferguson. It’s called a Spiritual Assessment, but we prefer a “Meet with the Majors.” The purpose of this meeting is to get to know each resident as a person with emotional and spiritual needs. We recognize that homelessness is a complex issue that impacts our community and relationships. Oftentimes, a person who meets with the majors will receive a Bible and a devotional book. Sometimes, they can be referred to a local faith community which resembles the church where they grew up. Residents always receive prayer and a plan for strengthening their emotional and spiritual life. It was evident from their first meeting together that Heather’s journey to healing and wholeness would be more than just finding permanent housing. Together, we had to begin addressing all the brokenness in her past.
Thankfully, Heather’s family was in the area, but this was early in the pandemic. With the restrictions on gatherings, parks and restaurants were closed. There was no place open for Heather to meet them. Fortunately, the solution was literally in our front yard. During the pandemic, Salvation Army church services moved to the parking lot and a drive in format. Majors Paul and AmyJo set up a tent outside the building with a PA system. Congregation members drove their vehicles into the parking lot where they would remain during the service. They could sit in the car and listen on their radio or bring lawn chairs and sit beside their vehicle and listen to the service through our PA system.
Heather had grown up in a Christian church and was excited to be able to attend worship right next door at The Salvation Army. She began reconnecting with her family by nervously inviting her parents to church on Sunday. Heather’s dad couldn’t wait until Sunday. Like the father in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son which is recorded in Luke 15, Heather’s dad had been anxiously waiting and hoping. Once he heard his daughter’s voice, he had to see her for himself. The day after Heather made the call, her dad came to The Salvation Army. He could not have been happier that his daughter was in a safe place and getting the help she needed. He was instantly impressed by the peaceful atmosphere at our facility where we are surrounded by trees and singing birds. He was convinced that this was a place where Heather could get her life back together.
The next Sunday, Heather was pacing back and forth as she nervously awaited her parents’ arrival at church. We were in for a surprise when a large passenger van pulled into the parking lot. Heather’s parents were so excited that they invited her whole family. In the van were Heather’s kids, siblings, and even a cousin. Everyone’s joy and excitement was evident even though facemasks covered their smiles. They sat on the grass 6 feet apart for church.
After church, they made a large circle in the grass and began getting to know each other again. The family was still sitting on the grass and someone had been sent for burgers when Majors Paul and AmyJo left for home after cleaning up from the services.
Oftentimes, people think of a homeless shelter as merely a place to stay with a line of cots and a shower down the hall. At The Salvation Army’s Family Lodge our mission is to provide so much more than just a place to lay one’s head. As the only family shelter in St. Charles County, we rebuild broken spirits. We knit families back together. We patiently help families reestablish traditions and rituals. We work to set our families up for long term success when they leave the shelter.
We are proud to say that our former residents often stay in contact and seek ways to volunteer and serve after they leave the shelter. Heather’s journey is just beginning, but with her family behind her, we are excited to see the great things her future holds.