In Matthew 22, verse 37, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” He then adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 39b). It can be easy to love God; He provides, forgives, fills, and answers us, but we often fall short of loving our neighbor. It can be challenging to love and faithfully serve others, especially knowing we won’t always get much in return. However, in partnership with local and county organizations, Willow Crystal Lake followed Jesus’ teaching and showed incredible love to those in greatest need.
On June 25, Willow Crystal Lake hosted their first-ever Community Empower Shower event, an outreach for the local unsheltered and homeless in their community. Julie Davis, Willow point person for this event, had this to say on the importance of linking arms with other community organizations to make this event a reality. She said,
“As outreach providers within the McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness, a group of us saw the availability of a hot shower was a huge gap in the way our community served unsheltered men and women. That's when we decided we were better together and joined forces to make this event happen! It's been such a huge success because everyone who joined has the heart to serve hurting men, women, and children take next steps towards a brighter future. We’re so excited to see our church building be used as a hub in the community to serve those who are most in need of care and compassion."
And what an event the Empower Shower was!
On the day of the event, walking up to the front of Willow Crystal Lake, the first sight to see was what looked like a regular truck trailer parked out front. Instead, it was what some craved most: a hot shower. Sponsored by St. Vincent De Paul, Showers of Blessing drove over an hour-and-a-half to the event to offer hot showers. Their trailer had been converted into two separate showering stalls, providing privacy to some who may have gone days or weeks without a shower. Clean towels and fresh clothes were also offered to anyone who desired; in addition, basic toiletries, like shaving cream and hairbrushes, were freely given.
Next to the Showers of Blessing trailer was a giant purple truck--the Live4Lali vehicle. Live4Lali attended the event and provided services for those struggling with drug addiction. They offered resources on overcoming addiction, collected dirty needles and other used drug paraphernalia, and even gave classes on how to use NARCAN, a nasal spray given to revive someone after an overdose. Talking with some of the Live4Lali volunteers, it was amazing to hear their heart behind their mission; some have had addictions in the past, and now they seek ways to help those who were like them find healing and sobriety.
Walking inside Willow, there was a multitude of community services set up and ready to give aid or help anyone who approached them:
There was a room dedicated to veteran services, where Veterans: Path to Hope was ready to offer assistance and programs to past service members who were living through harsh times.
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul had a space where volunteers gathered to provide assistance in various ways, from helping keep the lights on for those about to lose their homes, to simply offering to pray with an individual.
The Salvation Army offered food, utility, and prescription assistance.
McHenry County Emergency Utility and Rental Assistance Program gave services to help cover the costs of past rent/utility bills and even some future rent bills.
Crystal Lake Food Pantry provided food bags and a shopping experience for the unsheltered, bringing them a sense of dignity and maybe even a little bit of peace, where they won’t have to worry where their next meal will come from.
And even those who came to the event with legal issues could seek consultation through Prairie State Legal Services. They’re an organization that strives to protect the vulnerable and make sure justice is fair for all.
The resources and programs at this gathering covered as wide a need as can be imagined. In addition to the organizations that were on site, Willow had cots with clean sheets for anyone who wanted a nap, there was a room dedicated to prayer (where guests could pray on their own or with a volunteer), washing machines/dryers were made available with included detergent, pamphlets and medical services were easily accessible (the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was administered), and what some were most excited about--a volunteer giving haircuts!
The event wasn’t about making headlines or self-promotion. It wasn’t about the rich helping the poor or the saved helping the unsaved; it was about the power of love for fellow brothers and sisters and providing for them in any way they needed because they’re human, too.
The church is just a building, but it’s the congregants and people who make it something special through God. Willow paired with countless organizations--some Christian and some not--to help those in greatest need. Although there might be differences of opinion and beliefs, loving others and offering aid is a cause easy to rally behind.
We won’t know all the long-term effects of the event; we won’t know everyone who got sober, found a home, or protected themselves from a future disease or illness. But we saw some short-term effects: those who might find it hard to smile were seen and known as they were treated with decency, respect, and as human beings. Whether they knew it or not, they all left the event feeling just a small part of what God’s love through His people can do.
At Willow, we’re striving to become a church of believers that would be missed if our doors were permanently closed. On June 25, Julie and the team at Willow Crystal Lake took a massive step in making sure we’re an impact and an essential part of our local communities, and they continue to do so:
Willow Crystal Lake (partnered with the Care Center) hosted another Empower Shower event this past Friday, August 20.