A cold wind blows, scattering leaves and tattered bits of paper across the overgrown yard. The brown grass crunches underfoot as a group of men form a circle around a 50-gallon drum filled with burning debris. They hold their hands out to its heat and wait. A few tuck bottles of liquor into their pockets, still in the thralls of an addiction. Some of the men wear faded work pants and battered shoes, their faces scruffy with beards. But take a closer look and you will see others in the circle who seem out of place with their shiny loafers, suits and ties, and fresh haircuts. But they have a special light about them, as they reach out to their brothers around the barrel, sharing lunch, bringing warm clothes, hats and gloves, and, even better than that, a message of hope and salvation.
This is the “Church of the Barrel,” a ministry born out of the recognition of a need, and a burning desire to share Jesus in the hope of changing lives. It started about a year ago, almost by accident, although the men who create this ministry each week in the abandoned yard at the corner of Rosa Parks Avenue and Stone Street wouldn’t call it that. They know this is something they were called to do.
A group of guys from Vaughn Forest Church, along with a mission ministry called TREC International, learned about a group of homeless men who were gathering in the yard to drink and stay warm around a fire they would light in a barrel. The ministry started by bringing these men warm clothes, boots and gloves, and helping them with odds and ends, things they needed, and running errands for them. Eventually, the homeless men asked the missionaries – for that’s what they are, even if their mission field is a little closer to home by most people’s definitions – for a Bible study.
“We decided to do it on Tuesdays at lunch,” recalls Beasley Allen attorney Chris Glover, who attends Vaughn Forest and has been a part of the ministry from the beginning. “The first day we brought fried chicken. One of the homeless guys called it ‘bird with the Word.’ We had a fire in the barrel burning to stay warm that day. Thus, the ‘Church of the Barrel’ was born.”
The group is committed to meeting, sharing lunch and studying the word of God with the homeless each Tuesday. They started with a ministry for three or four men, and now meet weekly with a group of about 15 people, including a few women. They feel that only God is powerful enough to make a difference in the lives of the people they minister to, who are facing huge odds and years of hardship.
“We have a lot to do,” Glover says. “These guys are surrounded by temptation, live on the streets, and have had a lifetime of defeat. It’s amazing that we are so close to so much hurt. These guys live within two miles of our office. Yet, it is a world away. The Word of God will make a difference so we keep bringing it,” he says.
He says they have seen miracles. Some have been healed of physical ailments, even a serious heart problem. Alcoholics have been released from their addiction, and are turning their lives around. Some have found jobs and now have homes, and for maybe the first time in their lives, they have hope.
It is evident to Chris that God is working in the lives of those who need it most, but the ministry also blesses those who are working in it, he says. “I’ve been blessed in ways I could never imagine by going. It isn’t easy, but God blesses our obedience. We all have different callings and the key is to go when Christ says go and do when he says do. Whatever and where ever that is. Despite the obstacles, I love to go.”
He says he is constantly reminded of the scripture found in James 2: 14-17 – “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
For more information about the TREC International ministry program, which not only works in Montgomery but also worldwide, visit www.trecmud.com. TREC urges Christians to “Get Your Faith Dirty” by putting it to work to help those in need.