Born out of a call to be doers of the Word and not just hearers of it, Bob Denison, a yacht broker from Fort Lauderdale, and his friends began a ministry known as LoveBags. Desiring to reach the homeless for Christ in a real and tangible way, Denison and a group of friends from Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale about nine years ago began putting together bags for the homeless that included sandwiches, water, socks and other necessary items for daily living. The bags were ultimately put together to encourage people and to spread the love of Jesus through a simple act of love.
“Our ultimate goal was to love people, make friends, not just feed them… but to love them like Jesus would,” said Dennison, founder of LoveBags.
A burden to act
Denison was moved to action while listening to a sermon at Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale.
“The sermon was on fasting, more particularly Isaiah 58. It burdened me to my core. How could I not want to do for the least of these.”
In Isaiah 58, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a spiritual fasting; helping the oppressed, the hungry, the least and the lost. This is the message that Denison heard from the Lord: go be busy about your Father’s business.
Denison served with the Refuge ministry at Calvary working with the homeless population, and through this ministry was able to experience and understand the plight of the homeless. Denison knew he had to do something. And then he heard a quote by Soren Kierkegaard that changed his life.
“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any word in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”
Equipped with a new understanding and bursting passion for the good news, this group of friends was inspired to go out and meet the homeless where they were – seeing that it was not just a feeding but meeting a need, starting a friendship.
“We wanted it to be different and deliberate,” said Denison. “We went to go find people on street corners and park benches and start a friendship. Homeless people get a lot of advice and a lot of food. People tell them all the time ‘go get a job’ or ‘stop drinking.’ But we knew you had to earn the right to talk to people about these things. This we knew could only be accomplished through friendship and consistently fulfilling the basic human need for love.”
Early on,Denison and his friends began inviting the homeless into their homes. This devoted group of friends made new friends who became a part of their daily living. He says that things were at times inconvenient like sharing bathroom space and things getting stolen here and there. “These were little inconveniences like people drinking our milk,” said Denison, “Sometimes it was painful and hard and sometimes they would use us and abuse us and then leave and wreck our lives. When that would happen, I would think of the position of Jesus in my own life — the times I had betrayed Him, taken advantage of his grace and reeked havoc on his love. It was a very real reminder.”
More than food
Because LoveBags is more than a homeless feeding, the organization has had a clear vision and has not been entrenched in the recent battle which has garnered worldwide attention between the City of Fort Lauderdale and the homeless advocate community.
“When we looked at what our stance was going to be in this great debate, we saw that there was no yelling or screaming in the life of Jesus. We didn’t see him protesting or resolving the social issues of His day in this way. So we decided it was important to not do something that our city did not want us to do. We were obedient to the law. The law did not say that we could not make friends, sing, pray and build relationships.”
So while Ft. Lauderdale’s ordinance remained in effect, LoveBags continued to minister on Tuesday nights, abiding by the law by not serving food. They were able to continue to make a difference by passing out grocery store gift cards.
A picnic in the park
The organization through volunteer Chet Beers is continuing on with the vision to run a completely organic ministry.
“We are not tied in with any specific church. Everything is through word of mouth. If you want to be involved all you have to do is show up.” said Beers. “What does Love Bags look like in real terms? It is a picnic in the park with friends for Jesus. That’s the picture I would want to leave people with.”
LoveBags is visionary, progressive and forward moving in its thinking. It exists on the premise of going out and being who Jesus has called us to be, getting outside ourselves and being totally sold out to the gospel.
Denison emphatically and passionately expresses, “This is less about getting involved with LoveBags and more about what you’re passionate about and who your damsel in distress is. It could be a homeless guy, a person with special needs – but there are a lot of people who need a hero. When we die and go to heaven, there is no need for heroes. God has put a spirit inside you to rescue the least of these; its’ about finding out what segment of the least God is calling us to.”
LoveBags meets at Brew Coffee Shop, 638 North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on Tuesday nights at 7:45 p.m. for prayer before heading out to Holiday Park. They are always in need of dry socks and bottles of water. All are welcome. For more information or to get involved, contact Chet Beers via email at [email protected].
Melissa Zelniker-Presser is an attorney who is following her God-sized dream of becoming a full time writer. Melissa currently runs a blog workforthecausenottheapplause.com and is also working on a non-fiction book detailing her journey to Christ as a Jewish believer. She can be contacted at [email protected].