Homeless get warm reception on frigid nights at Mount Bethel


       The workers at the local retail giants didn’t understand what was happening. Shoppers were lining up to fill carts with blankets and pillows, among other basic necessities.
   For a time, the Target and Wal-Mart in east Cobb had run out of air mattresses.
    A store manager at the Target reasoned that, somehow, he must have overlooked a big news story.
   “He thought people were gathering supplies for a major winter storm,” said Jody Ray.
    But shoppers weren’t scurrying to stock their homes in preparation for a snow or ice. Instead, they were responding to a call to action from Mount Bethel UMC to help the homeless.
    “It was amazing,” said Ray, an assistant pastor at the church. “I have never seen anything like it. Everyone got behind the effort and the enthusiasm became contagious.”
       Mount Bethel’s unusual outreach to homeless, which involved opening up the doors of the church to provide food and shelter, became a national news story. Glenn Beck included a segment about it on his Fox News show, and even ran a video clip of Senior Pastor Randy Mickler asking worshippers if they would support the effort to house homeless in the church’s gymnasium.
     Mickler shared his vision that the church provide emergency shelter whenever the temperatures dipped below 25 degrees.
     As Mickler later wrote, “Two of Sunday’s services witnessed 3,000 church members stand in support of our idea to reach out to the homeless during these frigid nights. Not one negative vote! Over 500 people have volunteered as hosts, cooks, drivers, chaperones, etc. Many tons of supplies have been received for this ministry in the form of food, clothes, blankets, towels, toiletries, pillows, air mattresses, gloves and hats! We even had someone offering Chiropractic treatment!”
     On the unusually frigid nights of Dec. 12-14, more than 160 homeless were housed and fed at Mount Bethel. Five buses from the church were dispatched to downtown Atlanta to ferry the people who were living outdoors, often under bridges, to east Cobb.
       “Members of the church prepared hot meals every night,” Ray said. “In the morning there was a full breakfast, including bacon and eggs. And we even packed a lunch for everyone when they left.”
          Beyond Glenn Beck’s cable show, and TV news shows in the Metro Atlanta area, Mount Bethel began receiving calls from media outlets as far away at Phoenix, Ariz., and Portland, Ore.
        “It is amazing to see what has happened as a result of this,” Ray said. “We can see the potential of what can be done for the Kingdom.
     “We hope this spreads to other United Methodist churches in North Georgia. If it does, we know we could put up every single homeless person who needs a warm place on a cold night.”
       Mickler summed up this way, in a note to his church: “Because of your compassionate, action-oriented faith, many of the ‘least and lost’ are experiencing the warmth of God’s love anew.”