One year later

One year later - How COVID-19 impacted our vulnerable neighbors

One year, 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days... 2020 felt much longer than that. As we reflect on the year where fear became a daily occurrence, where lives were lost, where politics divided, and where racial reconciliation was demanded, we remember.

At Mel Trotter, each of our staff and our guests have a unique experience with the virus -times of heartbreak, but also moments of deep trust in the Lord. Selina, MTM Intake Specialist Manager, and Martha, MTM Women’s Chaplain, both had a deeply integrated and first-hand experience with the effect the pandemic had on the mission and the vulnerable individuals we are called to serve. Looking back at the initial responses of our guests when COVID-19 first came to West Michigan, here is what they both had to share.

Fear and anxiety

Selina: I have found that so many guests have been grateful. They are grateful when they come in, saying "if it wasn't for Mel Trotter, they wouldn't have a roof over their head. They’d have no food to eat." But Selina admits, she also sees a lot of anger, many guests wondering and questioning "How did I get here?" or "Why did this happen to me?”  So what we try to do is have our first impression be our best impression. I always tell my team this: greet them with love and show them that they are in the right place. A lot of guests worry when they come into the shelter, wondering, “Is this person too close to me? Am I keeping six feet and social distancing? Do I need my mask?” But then as we began to get the tools to create a safe environment for the pandemic, I have seen anxiety levels go down. They're more grateful because they know that we care and that they are someone we value.

Martha: Initially the first response was a general feeling of anxiety created by the unknown. We didn't know very much about this virus. It was hyped to a point where people were very frightened. As far as getting through that, I think we learned a lot. We know that we can take care of ourselves to stop the spread. As far as emotions and putting minds to rest, knowing that things are going to be okay. God is still sovereign and on His throne, and none of this is a surprise to him. We do not need to fear.

Adapting during a pandemic

We then went on to discuss how their roles at Mel Trotter have been challenged by COVID-19 and how they have had to change how they respond to and support our guests.

Selina: Thinking about our homeless population and when you're dealing with deep wounds, you want to try to get them to a place where they receive the most support and resources needed. We constantly gather around them to give the love and support that they need, saying "We hear you, we're listening". After talking to some of our guests, I’ve learned that they're most afraid of what's going to happen next, when the pandemic is over. They’re scared. They wonder "will the friends that I have made still be here when this is over?" We know God is not a God of fear. Just knowing they’re waking up with fear bothers me and I'm just trying to help them cope with what's going on in the world today.

I had my ups and downs, seeing other’s loved one's die from COVID and seeing one of my dearest co-workers pass away. But the fight must go on. What's really helped me overcome the difficulties is leaders coming together, keeping each other accountable, and lifting each other in prayer. Just saying, "How are you doing"? I ask God to put up a hedge of protection around me and others around me. I think that's what really helped me through the difficult times, the procedures and the processes. Still, I sometimes had fear. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I was angry, wanting to put blame somewhere, anywhere. But things happen for a reason and it’s up to us to learn from them. It was a difficult year, but I'm walking through it now.

Martha: One of the most challenging aspects for me was having to cancel different events and activities that we had planned for the women. I had lots of volunteers that were lined up and were excited to come and share what they know and teach painting, jewelry, make up, skin care. We even had a hair stylist that would come in twice a month to meet with the ladies, shape their hair up, and the women looked forward to that. They loved it. It was a time too of learning and fellowship and really plugging in more to community from the outside that would come in to be a blessing here. I found ways to make their time here more pleasant for them, something that stretched me and gave me more time to think about what can we do with what we've got? That’s actually how the Mel Trotter's women's library came about. The library was born out of that challenge and it's turned out to be a huge blessing.

Rhonda Van Dyk 0283

In November 2020, we learned of the passing of one of MTM’s own staff members: our beloved Rhonda VanDyk. Rhonda’s spirit was one of unparalleled care for others. She exemplified selflessness. From making sure our guests secured food, shelter, and programming to making sure her fellow team members received birthday, anniversary, and frequent inspirational thank you cards—Rhonda loved others well. She showed up. She listened. She demonstrated her care and concern for others each and every day in both words and actions, which was exactly in line with her real and strong faith in Jesus.

Finding hope again

Even in the midst of strife there is hope. We asked Selina and Martha to share how hearts have indeed been moved through the pandemic shifting and God remaining on His Throne:

Selina: We had a Christmas dinner for the guests here and the Thanksgiving banquet as well. And the acknowledgement from them – some even cried, they were so grateful because they were being noticed. They're seeing how the ministry is making a way to ensure that they're cared for, safe, and heard. Most of the guests that I am seeing right now came with fear. But as things are getting better, you just see the gratefulness because they feel that our ministry came to their rescue. We treated them just like we wanted to be treated. Just seeing the multitude of gratefulness is a blessing.

Martha: Life and death are reality. Once you're at a point where you're at the bottom, you realize there's no way to go, but up. And so with this whole pandemic, I think the women’s hearts have been more open and receptive to hope, open to learning more about God. Once you're faced with possible death from this virus, COVID becomes real to you. And you start thinking more, not just head knowledge, but heart knowledge. I think a lot of the women are in a mode now also where they want to reconcile relationships with family members. Their first thought is to repair relationships that have been fractured, and that has to start within our own hearts. So they're actively seeking more of God's will now.

Guest transformation

Speaking on behalf of the guests as a whole, both women shared stories of individuals who have grown immensely, even during the fear and devastation of the pandemic.

Selina: We had a young lady here that has been coming into shelter off and on since 2013. When she first came to Mel Trotter, she had was suffering from mental illness and it had started to progress. There was a lack of community resources and case management and so she did not take her medication and ended up back on the streets. We have a case manager who started to work with her and did not give up on her. Following her lead, the rest of our team surrounded her with love and support and they were able to get her on her medication. The case managers were able to reach out to different neighbors and the community to get her somewhere to stay, a place that could sustain her. She is no longer a part of our shelter, but I would love for her to come back as a volunteer, and to share her story. It was just a blessing, seeing her move on from the seven years of despair and to her rise up and find a place to stay. Her story lets me know that there is hope and that there is a way to help the people that come here.

Martha: There is one lady who comes to mind… When I first met her the night she came in here in December, she was probably one of the most broken individuals that I have ever met. She's from New York and was a prostitute. She had substance abuse issues, relationship issues, and was estranged from family. But now she has completely surrendered her life to God and she has just emerged as a whole new person. She realizes she is not those things that labeled her or that she labeled herself with. She is a whole new creation in Christ and she is just moving forward. She's just one of those people...she's my friend. And she said to me, if you would have said 10 years ago, anything about walking with Jesus, she knew she wouldn't have anything to do with that. But Jesus has come into her life because she has totally surrendered everything to Him. She's an example for other women who come here. She now, instead of crying all the time, showing sadness and desperation, her tears are of joy. She wants to speak about her experience, her past, and she wants to come alongside other women and walk with them.

How amazing are these stories! These are just two example of hope and redemption that our guests have experienced, because of the love and support of our generous community.

Moving forward

Looking back at the past year, we’ve all experienced pain, loss and fear, but we know that we need to look towards God and trust in his plan. Speaking of hope, both Selina and Martha touched on their hope for the mission moving forward, acknowledging the pandemic, but not living in darkness.

Selina: My biggest hope was that it would bring our organization closer together. I want us to appreciate each other more so that when these things come up, that we're there. When we're okay, then the environment that we're serving will be okay. Building up those relationships tighter, communicating with one another, and loving on each other one day after the next, because we don't know when our time is coming. Like I said, we lost a loved one unexpectedly that was in our ministry working here. Sometimes you don't get to say that goodbye or I'll see you tomorrow and it still hurts. So I want to just grow a network inside our organization to make us closer.

Martha: My hope is that all of us here, staff and guests alike, come to appreciate each moment of every single day. God's got me here for a reason, he's got everyone here for a reason, finding that, and realizing we are here to make a difference. It's no coincidence, but it's ordained from the beginning of time. Coming to a place in our hearts where we're able and willing to show the love and compassion of Christ, having the greater knowledge that we serve a sovereign God, we do not have to fear anything. There's a part of that whereas spiritual leaders here at Mel Trotter, it is of the utmost importance to surrender our will to God's will. Our will for God's will that real lasting change and transformation can take place. Then we will be able to love and serve one another with the compassion of Christ as he commanded us to do.

Join us in prayer

Prayer and our faith in His plan are what keep us moving forward. They can make all the difference as we have faithfully seen with our guests and have seen repeatedly in response to the pandemic. We know that God will be there for us in times of hardship. We must take comfort in his Word. In Jeremiah 29:12-13, He says, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Please join us in praying over the specific requests named here:

Selina: Pray for strength. Pray that God continues to give us compassion and grace, because we go through so much when it comes to different struggles with people. Just ask God to give us wisdom to be able to serve His people better. Lift the same prayer that we will do the will of God and that we remove ourselves. Pray for us and pray that we understand the reason why we are here.

Martha: Pray we take a good, hard look and examine our hearts, so we realize what's still preventing us to be who Christ made us to be. And, that this year will be a tremendous amount of growth for us. Pray that we can communicate very clearly to our guests, as well as staff. That we can move forward in the way that God is intending Mel Trotter Ministries to move forward.

To learn more about Mel Trotter Ministries and what God is doing in and through our ministry, please consider attending our virtual Meet the Mission luncheon where we share how our guests are overcoming obstacles, finding hope and salvation, finding value and worth again, after all of the fear and heartbreak from the last year.