By Jonathan Soder, Features Editor
Sometimes, in fact most of the time, classes stay on campus. Classrooms are on campus, professors have offices on campus and students do homework, though not exclusively, on campus.
Naturally, campus is the epicenter for class life, but what about classes that are specifically focused on going out instead of staying in?
Last semester, several students in Dr. Galen Jones’ Intro to Evangelism responded to the Matthew 29:19’s mandate to “go” and took their class to downtown Shawnee.
For the capstone project, junior cross-cultural ministry major Jordan Sheehy, sophomore Biblical studies major Caleb Stewart, then-sophomore cross-cultural ministry major Sam Creasy and junior something major David Gonzalez began a homeless outreach ministry.
Originally, Sheehy and Creasy planned to start a discipleship group in Agee dorm, but the plan never came to fruition.
Meanwhile, separately Stewart hoped to serve the homeless in Shawnee. After hearing about Stewart’s idea, Sheehy approached him about merging the two, and the Good Samaritan Project was born.
“I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do or how stuff was going to work,” Stewart said. “So with him [Sheehy] being able to cut hair, then the idea of grilling, it all just came together [to] have free haircuts, free food and fellowship.”
With a rough plan, the team began work. First, they made posters and hung them up downtown several weeks in advance of their first visit.
The free dinners were set for every Thursday at 6 p.m. Then they purchased and prepared food for the first Thursday night and headed downtown with a pair of shears, a chair and an amateur barber.
“We started out our first week with four people, and we were really scared [thinking] that, ‘This is all we’re going to reach for the next three months,’” Sheehy said.
With food enough for 25 people, the men returned to campus, refrigerated what wasn’t eaten and returned the next to find 10 new faces greeting them.
“That next week we had 14, so that was exciting, but literally the week after that we came back and there were 45 plus people that showed up,” Sheehy said. “It was just amazing to see how many people were in need, how many people couldn’t feed themselves that even, that wouldn’t have gotten a meal without us being out there.”
For the next month, the Good Samaritan Project continued to serve upwards of 45 people every Thursday night.
“They continuously told us, ‘This is not all of us. There’s twice what you’ve see here. They’re just busy or at some other place eating right now,” Sheehy said.
Only one group among many who serve free dinners for the homeless in Shawnee, Sheehy, Stewart, Creasy and Gonzalez aimed to do more than just provide free food.
One way they achieved this was through the free haircuts Jordan offered.
“I realized that one of the easiest ways for me to serve them is by giving them something they [normally] have to pay for for free,” Sheehy said. “A haircut’s always just something that makes you feel fresh, makes you feel new [and] puts a smile on your face, so I wanted to take my gifts and utilize those to bring enjoyment to people’s lives.”
These haircuts, and the meal, were part of the larger goal to “live life” with the homeless people in Shawnee.
Much of the inspiration for their ultimate goal came from Stewart’s sociology class.
He remembers reading through a portion of his textbook, “Generous Justice,” that highlighted the emphasis in the Old Testament on the Israelites’ responsibility to treat the downtrodden with dignity and compassion.
“Another thing in that book was that, instead of just giving tokens, like, ‘Here’s some money. Go buy some food,’ build them back up,” Stewart said. “Help them get jobs again. Help them find a home.”
One way Stewart and the others hope to achieve the long-term goal of building the homeless up is to pair with local churches to establish permanent involvement with the homeless community downtown.
“We want to provide a church for these families in need to go to that’s in their area, that they don’t have to drive across town for, that are welcoming and wanting them to come as well,” Sheehy said.
“We want them to not just fund us, but also make appearance[s] sometimes and introduce themselves to the families around them because it’s so much easier to go into a church when you already know someone than to just walk into a door.
“We want them to not just fund us but also make appearance[s] sometimes and introduce themselves to the families around them because it’s so much easier to go into a church when you already know someone than to just walk into a door,” Sheely said.
This type of community involvement would ensure the continuation of this ministry even as students have to leave.
However, this wouldn’t necessitate that graduating students cease helping.
Creasy, who’s taking a semester to work back home, has continued to support the group financially in anticipation of his physical absence this semester.
He also hopes to take part again when he returns to campus in the spring.
For him, the experience was more than a class project.
“[I learned] how fortunate I am to have what I have,” Creasy said, “and how many people there are that feel like they aren’t worth anything and feel like people have given up
on them, that need someone to show them how valued they are by Christ.”
At this point, it’s undetermined when the weekly meals will take place.
However, Sheehy, Stewart and Creasy all agree that it should continue, despite schedule conflicts and new responsibilities.
(The Bison was unable to successfully reach Gonzalez.)
“It’s still one of the things the Lord is convicting me of,” Stewart said. “And, just the other day, I went to that Momentum conference that lasted the whole night. We sang that song ‘Great Are You Lord,’ and I was just thinking, ‘Everyone doesn’t know how great the Lord is.’
“That got me thinking about the homeless ministry again, and so we need to keep on sharing the Gospel and telling others how great the Lord is and that he loves them.”
This is another goal that is yet to be realized.
Last year the four men sought to build relationships.
This year they hope to move into explicitly religious conversations that will lend themselves to outright Gospel presentations.
For now, Sheehy said that the group, now called Purpose 50, plans to hang up flyers Tuesday, Sept. 18th after deciding on a time to meet.
Any students interested in learning about the project further, or even donating, can visit purposeforthepoor.com