American Baptist spends night outdoors to raise awareness for AFC, homelessness

Inspired by American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) America for Christ Offering, Scott Macauley vividly brought homelessness to the attention of a sleepy town 7 miles north of Boston. He recently spent the night in a box on the lawn of First Baptist Church, Melrose, Mass., across the street from city hall and the fire station.

Scott Macauley presents at First Baptist Church, Melrose, Mass.

Scott Macauley presents at First Baptist Church, Melrose, Mass.

On the night of Friday, March 18—despite hail, rain and the frigid 27-degree temperature—the 54-year-old owner of a vacuum sales-and-repair shop in Melrose chose to raise awareness by sleeping outdoors in a washing machine box furnished only with blankets picked from a dumpster. Smaller boxes were set up to accept monetary donations for America for Christ and nonperishable food items for local food pantries. Macauley was without a mobile phone, choosing not to own one.

The idea came to Macauley after reading the bulletins of First Baptist and Green Street Baptist churches, Melrose, both of which had been seeking creative America for Christ promotional ideas. Macauley notes that he had also recently read a local newspaper’s police log, including entries about homeless individuals sleeping in doorways.

Answering a question about the reason he chose to sleep outside in a box instead of simply donating money to America for Christ, Macauley responds: “I have to ask God that question. The idea just popped into my head.”

First Baptist obtained permission from the police and mayor’s office, and within a few weeks, Macauley’s proposal became reality. Two local newspapers announced the upcoming event, and the community responded favorably with an outpouring of donations that Macauley describes as “a path of nonperishable food 4½ feet wide-by-33½ feet long.”

On the evening of the awareness event, Macauley worked in his shop until 5 p.m. and then finished his commitment to put crosses on church lawns for Holy Week. “People started coming at 20 [minutes] of 6, before I set up [camp],” he says, surprised.

Donors continued to drop by the encampment after midnight, he says, noting that one couple was headed home from a night of dancing. Determined to open his shop the next morning—Saturday—Macauley began to pack up at 6 a.m. He accepted the last donation at 6:20 a.m., he says.

In addition, before the event, Macauley had presented a “Children’s Moment” to the children and congregation at Green Street Baptist. Dressed in ratty clothes and shoes and wearing a wig and fake beard, Macauley hid in a refrigerator box before his audience arrived, revealing himself only after a Sunday school student knocked on the box. Following the “Who is Your Hero?” children’s project theme, as recommended in the America for Christ Offering 2016 Leader’s Guide, the boy was dressed as Captain America.

Macauley told the children: “Thank you for collecting the America for Christ Offering. You kids are heroes when you and your parents bring food donations to the food pantry, and you are like Christ when you help out.”

He not only spoke to the children about the “Discipleship: Becoming More Like Christ” America for Christ 2016 theme but also enacted it. He illustrated that the children could change a homeless person’s life by becoming a disciple of Christ and loving their neighbors. As he described a homeless individual becoming enabled to obtain a haircut, he removed the wig. As he described an individual enabled to shave, he removed the fake beard. As he talked about a person obtaining donated clothing from a clothing ministry, he removed the ratty clothes, revealing fresh new ones underneath.

After the awareness event, Macauley once again presented the “Children’s Moment”—this time on Palm Sunday to the congregation at First Baptist, where he is a member.

“He brought everything to life in a powerful way,” says Damaris Cami-Staples, First Baptist’s pastor. “You should have seen the faces of those kids when he came out of that box. He said, ‘Somebody came by and helped with this. And somebody came by and offered that.’ We cannot fix all the problems of the world, but each one of us can do his or her part. When we do that, we are really extending the love and compassion of the Lord. He was a wonderful witness. The kids won’t forget it, and I know that I won’t forget it.”

The nonperishable food that Macauley collected will be split among First Baptist’s food pantry, A Servant’s Heart Food Pantry of Faith Evangelical Church, Melrose, and Bread of Life, a faith-based partnership of 37 churches and other organizations that provides feeding and other ministries in the Malden, Mass., area. Both First Baptist and Green Street Baptist participate once monthly at Bread of Life, where Macauley has been volunteering since high school.

“It definitely woke up the little town to the plight of homeless people,” Macauley says of his awareness event. “This was a way of letting people know that this is what American Baptists do with their offering. It carried the message beyond the walls of the church, which is a good thing to do.”