Name: Marian Alvarado
Location: Chicago, IL
Organization: Timothy's Ministry
"Our mission is to help to alleviate the suffering of
homelessness, and also help people step out of homelessness"
I am extremely grateful to get to put a spotlight on my own mom this month, and share a bit of her story. Two weeks before my brother Tim died, my mom turned her life over to God. I watched as her life went through a total transformation. Not only did her heart and spirit from within change, but my mom began to exude a new light and joy on the outside that was so evident of God's love and residence in her. On the day of my brother's birthday, my mom was struggling to find hope on that day. As she called out to God to bring some hope and peace to her heart that day, she felt prompted to bake a cake for someone. This lead her to bringing a car full of donations and food down to a Chicago area homeless shelter. 14 years later my mom is director and founder of a beautiful ministry that serves hundreds of men and women who are living in homelessness every week. Here is a bit of her story.
Tell us about what Timothy's Ministry is, and about the mission behind it.
"Timothy's Ministry is a ministry of love and compassion to people struggling with homelessness as we gather together as a family through the love of God that He pours out. Our mission is to help to alleviate the suffering of homelessness and also help people step out of homelessness. We have two locations. Our place in Chicago is called Tim's House where we gather with approximately 35 people every Thursday and Friday. We share our hearts and our struggles around a table, open the Bible, pray, encourage one another, and enjoy a home-cooked lunch/dinner as well as coffee and bagels in the morning. We experience the presence of God and His miracles in a powerful way, and people always tell me that 'there is no place like Tim's House' because there is such an experience of peace and love and family in this place.
We also have a location in Arlington Heights where we meet every other Sunday for a much larger potluck family style luncheon (approximately 150 people) where we eat together as a family, have a clothing room, and worship service. We have a unique family environment where people help one another with the many challenges faced by the homeless. We also help people with transportation, I.D.'s, medical assistance, and housing in Chicago. When someone around the table shares a particular need, we open up the discussion and solve the problem together. The wonderful gift that everyone has experienced at Timothy's Ministry is that no one is alone."
So, what led you to starting this ministry?
"In 2002, I was on my knees on my kitchen floor crying out to God, the day before my son Tim's birthday, and prayed simply, 'Help me God, how am i suppose to get up tomorrow morning. If only I could have had the simple joy of baking Tim a birthday cake! What I would have given for that.' As I prayed, a thought came to my mind, "Maybe if I bake a cake for a homeless shelter that would help me to get out of bed tomorrow." I thought of a homeless shelter because Tim reached out to the homeless in high school and he brought a homeless in man home (randomly) 3 months before he died. One call down to a homeless shelter asking if they would accept a cake and then hearing that they were 'desperate' and that 'no one every calls them', caused me to send an e-mail to the ladies in my Bible Study (the same Bible Study that God had placed in my life just 6 weeks before Tim died...before that time, I had never opened a Bible).
The next day, on Tim's birthday, when I arrived at Bible Study, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw piles of clothing and baked goods. A friend offered to drive with me to bring the donations to the homeless shelter that afternoon, and although I thought we were just going to deliver the donations and leave, God had a different plan. When I met the people from the homeless shelter, I could not leave, and instead wanted to go inside and visit. After that day, it took on a life of it's own, as I kept visiting that homeless shelter and would always write an e-mail, my e-mail list began to grow, people more and more people began to donate clothing and food, and then a year later, Timothy's Ministry began! Since February 2004, we gather every other Sunday in Arlington Heights with our own Worship Service and clothing room, and have served thousands of people. We gather as a huge family on these Sundays with approximately 150 people and all of the food is donated by host groups that only God could have brought in."
Where does your passion to serve the homeless come from?
"I had not ever thought of helping the homeless before I drove down to the shelter that first day, but my son Tim helped the homeless in high school and randomly brought a homeless man home 3 months before he died, and that is why I had the thought to bake for a homeless shelter. It's hard to explain, but I know that it could only have been God to have placed a love in my heart for the people I met that first day. When I arrived at the homeless shelter parking lot on Tim's birthday with my van filled with donations, thinking I would simply deliver and leave, something happened in my heart that I had not expected. When I heard their voices as they were helping to unload the donations from my van saying "thank you, God bless you", and I saw their faces, something happened to this hole that was in my heart. I felt like my heart filled up and felt love for these people I had never met.
Although I did not know the pain and suffering of homelessness, I did know the suffering of losing a child, and the feeling of hopelessness, and somehow my heart connected with those people on that day. In Romans 8:28 God says that 'He will bring good from all things from those who love Him', and if someone were to have told me a day earlier that God would bring anything good from the tragedy in my life (especially a Homeless Ministry), I would never have believed them. But I knew on that day and know now that this love that I felt that compelled me to go inside and visit with the people, and then return the next week because I could not get them out of my mind, was from God. And that same love for the thousands of people over these years has not ever stopped, and that is how I know this wasn't a 'man plan', it was truly God's plan. And when we are in the midst of His plan and purpose for our life, there is no greater joy! I did not have a plan on that day 14 years ago, except to deliver the donations. After visiting with the people, I knew that I knew I wanted to come back in 2 weeks and visit again. I had no idea that God was beginning a Ministry that would continue until today."
Has there been anyone who has influenced, encouraged, or supported you as Timothy's Ministry began and has grown?
"First, God is our Great Provider and my 14 years experience with Timothy's Ministry has shown me this truth over and over again. The 15 women from that Bible Study were the first group of people God used to 'support' by send clothing and baked goods down to the shelter. After that first day, I always sent out an e-mail sharing stories and needs, and people started to forward my e-mails. Friends, neighbors, and people I didn't know began to send clothing and food. People would always offer and call me, and I never had to ask anyone for help! I would just share the stories and the needs, and people would contact me. Whether I have shared the need for coats, blankets, sleeping bags, food, beds, or anything, people send it and often they are people I don't know. We have had a large family-style Sunday potluck luncheons serving an average of 150 people since 2004 (more than 350 luncheons), and although I often do not know how much food is coming or what food is coming or often who will bring the food, God has provided abundantly every single time. It is truly a picture of 'loaves and fishes'. This is part of the joy of this Ministry because we get to see God miraculously provide! People also began to help us financially although I never asked. Eleven years ago, someone sent a very large donation after reading one of my e-mails, and someone from Church offered to begin the 501(c) 3 Process! That wasn't my idea either, and before I knew it, the person called me and said, "All you need now is a name". That is when we first decided to name this "Timothy's Ministry". Up until then, we were calling it "The Shelter Ministry" Other donations began to follow even though I didn't ask, but I always prayed and still pray because I know this is God's Ministry. I have been influenced most by the people who struggle with homelessness as I have listened to what they have said over the years including comments and criticisms of other places that try to help the homeless, and that is what guided me in many decisions along the way. The main thing I have learned is to make sure our gatherings are filled with real love, getting to know one another, and not volunteers serving while people who are homeless eat. We are a family."
You talk about how much God has been a catalyst to the success of this ministry. Can you share a story that has been a testimony of this?
""Our first potluck luncheon in Arlington Heights happened spontaneously in February 2004 3 days after a couple of people from the homeless shelter asked to visit my Church. That first luncheon was amazing as many people showed up with food after I sent just one e-mail out saying 'bring a dish!' and we gathered for the first time together as a family. There was so much love as we gathered and people who were homeless told me they felt loved and also said they didn't feel homeless because we all ate together and there were no walls separating people with a home from those without a home.
As human beings alone we cannot manufacture 'love' for people we don't know (and just being nice isn't love), so I know that the love we all felt came from God. After going home that day, I prayed, "God if you want us to have another luncheon, you're going to have to make it happen because I can't organize a luncheon like the one we had today." (I thought that I couldn't ask the same people to come back with food and also it would be a lot to really plan something as wonderful as what happened spontaneously). A couple of hours after praying, my phone rang and it was someone who had attended that first luncheon. I didn't know her although she was on my e-mail list, but i remember her words, "I was at the luncheon and I was wondering if my group of friends and neighbors could 'host' a luncheon like this!" The word that came to my mind was "Brilliant"! God had a brilliant plan! "Hosting a luncheon meant I wouldn't have to organize it. I put that woman down on the calendar for 2 weeks out, and my phone kept ringing!
Every other Sunday since February 2004, we have had a family style luncheon and clothing room and Worship Service and Bible Study. As one of our friends who struggles in Chicago said so well, "We are a family" Although we may have different 'host groups' that help us out, many people attend regularly and come on their own after hosting with a group, and that is how long-lasting relationships have been formed."
Have there been any struggles along the way that you can share about?
"Oh yes, we have had many obstacles and challenges, but nothing that ever stopped us. In fact, almost each time we have faced a challenge, the Ministry grew! One challenge occurred 6 years ago when I felt deeply that we needed to open a place in Chicago (Tim's House) so that we could get to know people and help them on a more personal basis Up until then, Timothy's Ministry only gathered on Sundays for our large potluck family luncheons. I had decided after praying that Irving Park and I-90 would be the perfect location because it was somewhat of a half-way point for our suburban volunteers and the people we knew in Chicago. That was also the exit our bus used for our Sunday luncheons to pick up our friends from Chicago and bring them to Arlington Heights, so I was familiar with that location. When I met with a realtor to look at store front properties, I felt discouraged because not only was the rent high and the spaces small (without kitchens), but also there was no parking (to speak of). I prayed again and asked God if He wanted us to have a place, to show us. That very same week, a Timothy's Ministry friend who had just stepped out of homelessness into housing called some of us and asked if we would like to join him at his new Church. A small group of us agreed that we would meet him that Sunday and take him out to breakfast afterwards. As we drove to Rich's Church, I noticed that we were exiting at Irving Park, and I said out loud, "I was just in this neighborhood looking at store front properties!" After only driving 2 blocks from the expressway, we arrived at the Church and we pulled into a large parking lot! I was so surprised to see a parking lot in the same neighborhood that didn't seem to have any parking. As we walked in the doors, I couldn't help but notice a large fellowship Hall with a kitchen, and I just prayed silently, "God show me if this is the place!" After the Service, I approached the Pastor and introduced myself and asked him if he would consider renting space to a ministry for the homeless and his response was, "How would I feel!!? This is what I pray for!" One week later, we opened our doors, and we have been there every Thursday and Friday since that time without any need to paint or build a kitchen!"
What advice or encouragement of hope can you offer to other women reading this?
"First, to always pray and ask God to show you if this is what He wants for your life. Second, to know that when you are in the center of God's plan for your life, you will experience joy! It may not be easy and you may be out of your comfort zone, but you will experience a joy that can only come from God. Also, keep your hands open to what God has for you. If anyone were to have told me 14 years ago that I would be leading a Ministry that has served thousands of people and serves thousands of meals each year and has involved thousands of volunteers, I would have said, "I cannot do that!" But, "With God, all things are possible and He 'equips the unequipped!"
God led me just one step at a time and always provided exactly what we needed and what I needed. This was not my plan and I am so grateful to God for finding a way to fill up my heart in the midst of hopelessness after losing my son Tim, and not ever leaving and not stopping. I love the people God has brought into my life and also love seeing the way God provides miraculously. We have prayed for specific size shoes and clothing, and have watched as people walk in the door with exactly what a person needs. This was not my plan, but I could not imagine being part of anything more wonderful."
What do you think the future holds for Timothy's Ministry?
"I really have no idea, but I am trusting God with the future and pray that God continues to lead His Ministry!"
Final Question: What can other people do to help or get involeved with Timothy's Ministry?
"Go to our website and contact me, get on my e-mail newsletter by clicking 'newsletter' at the top of the homepage and that will help people know more specifically how they can get involved. We always are looking for host groups to bring food for our Sunday luncheons in Arlington Heights as well as people who want to cook for us in Chicago, or just people who want to stop by and share a meal or cup of coffee and conversation with someone."
Feature Curated by: Katie Simkins