Timothy's Ministry Story How It All Began
by Marian Alvarado
It all began in 2002, a little more than a year after my son Tim passed away. It was the day before Tim's birthday, and I was on my knees in my kitchen crying out to God saying, "Help me, God, How am I supposed to get up tomorrow morning? If only I could have had the simple joy of baking Tim a cake...what I would have given."
While praying, a thought came to me that maybe if I baked a cake for someone else, that it might help me. I thought of a homeless shelter, because Tim reached out to the homeless in high school and he also brought a homeless man home three months before he passed away. Just weeks before Tim died, he was walking in Chicago with my husband; and while passing a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk, Tim emptied out his pockets of change and then said to my husband, "Dad, shouldn't we be doing something to help the homeless?"
Because of these memories, I called a random homeless shelter in Chicago with the intention to send down a few baked cakes. When I asked if they would accept baked goods, the manager replied, "Baked goods would be a God-send...we are desperate here." I asked him what they needed, and then I sent an e-mail to the ladies in my Bible study to ask for their help. (This Bible study was somehow placed in my life just six weeks before Tim passed away. It was my first Bible study, and it was a group of very special women God used to help me to feel a hope and a peace that could have only been possible through God - in the midst of an inconsolable grief.)
The next morning (on Tim's birthday) when I arrived at the Bible study, I could not believe my eyes when I saw piles and piles of clothing, toiletries, and baked goods. The ladies helped me to pack up my van and one of my friends drove with me on that first day to visit The Lakeview Shelter in Chicago.
When I stepped out of the van, I wasn't prepared for my own reaction as I heard their voices saying "God bless you" and "thank you", and I just remember thinking, "you are the homeless?" As I looked into their faces I realized that we had something in common because I knew that none of us planned to be in the place that we were in life. Something began to happen to the ache and hole in my heart as we went inside and talked...it began to fill up somehow. It turned out to be a good day as we visited and shared the pain and suffering of our journeys. Before I left on that day, I asked the men if they wanted to say a prayer; and we formed a circle and prayed together in the shelter. I returned home that day and wrote an e-mail to the people who sent the donations - sharing about the day and and how God had found a way to answer a prayer of "Help me, Lord" that I could not imagine would have an answer...But I knew in that moment that all things are possible with God!
Every other week , I continued to visit the shelter; and my van was always packed with clothing and other donations that were continuously delivered by a growing number of people who were simply coming forward and offering their help! In fact, it wasn't unusual for me to arrive home and see 10 - 12 hefty bags filled with clothing outside of my door. Three months after my first visit to the shelter, I asked my husband where we could store the clothing and he said, "We can keep it in Tim's room." That was yet another gift to me from God because I couldn't even look in my son's room before that time...but now when I looked into Tim's room, I saw evidence of God! I continued to send an E-Mail after each visit to the shelter, and my e-mail list grew and was up to about 100 people because word began to spread and people wanted to help.
It was February 2004, and as I was leaving the shelter after one of my regular biweekly visits, two of the men asked if they could visit my church. I didn't think that would be possible since they were in Chicago and our church is in Arlington Heights; and the people living in the shelter did not drive. But, when I returned home that day, there happened to be an e-mail from one of the pastors. I wrote him back and asked, "What should I say to the people from the shelter who have asked to visit our church?" The pastor responded, "What a privilege and a blessing, if they want to come, that is what we're here for." When I asked him, "How would they get here because they don't drive?" He said, "We'll send a bus", and added, "invite your volunteers (now 100 people on my e-Mail list) and you can have a potluck lunch following the service". I could not believe this pastor's response, and I was so excited to tell the friends on my e-mail list and my friends from the shelter that three days later we would be bringing everyone together for a luncheon.
With one phone call to the shelter letting them know that we would be bringing a bus on Sunday, and one e-Mail to my friends/volunteers, we had our first family-style potluck luncheon on February 20, 2004. I couldn't believe how beautiful the room looked when I walked in on that first day with our 18 friends from Chicago; and I was so grateful for the love and warmth in that room expressed by the 50+ volunteers who showed up. It was a wonderful day and everyone felt so much love as we sat together as a family. We didn't have time to plan this luncheon, so it must have been the spontaneous work of God that we would all sit together as a family and truly get to know each other. I knew that the first luncheon was easy because it was spontaneous as everyone simply brought a dish and somehow the day was perfect and wonderful. But I thought to myself that a future luncheon would probably require a lot of work and planning...so we prayed and asked God if it was His will for future luncheons - to please help us.
A few days later after that first luncheon, someone called me and asked if her Bible study could "host" a luncheon similar to the one we just had. When I heard the word 'host' I thought it was a perfect idea, and that was the beginning of the 'hosting concept' (and that idea could only have come from God!) One host group takes care of the basic needs including set-up, food, and clean-up, and other volunteers show up and it somehow all comes together perfectly every time! From February 2004 to the present, we have had a luncheon every other Sunday with always 150 - 200 people in the room...always with plenty of food and I know that could only be God since we never know how many people will be joining us and we never know exactly who will be bringing extra dishes of food. The best part is that there is so much joy and so much love in that room, and everyone enjoys the day so much and truly experiences the gift of family! We form a circle and all pray together before lunch just as we did on that first time I visited the shelter in Chicago.
Our guests join us from shelters all over Chicago and walk or take buses to meet our bus at Addison and Clark streets in Chicago. There are now an average of 50+ people waiting for our bus when we arrive on a Sunday morning to that same parking lot in Chicago, and there are now hundreds of people on my E-Mail Volunteer list. We also have a clothing room and a Bible study as part of our ministry. Our volunteers also join us from all over the Chicagoland area as well; and it all just amazes me!
This idea and plan for Timothy's Ministry was completely God-orchestrated and it can only be God who continues to bring each of us together every other Sunday as a family. Regardless of where a person lives, their situation in life, or their faith background, God continues to bring all of us together on these special Sundays as a family in His love.