(by Abbie Fox)
Halloween in Madison, Wisconsin is a BIG deal. They close off streets and have concerts, parties and lots of alcohol. But on this cold Halloween night, partiers discovered an unexpected source of warmth.
I stood on the porch of our PHOS campus ministry house watching hundreds of costumed college students stream past me. I’d just given my “Free Hot Dogs” sign to a friend in exchange for a break by the heater. The cold air whipped past me chilling me to the bone. Like me, I knew many of these students would soon seek warmth. I hoped that the free hot dogs, hot cocoa and porch heater would provide the perfect remedy on this cold October night. I hoped that as they stood by our heater sipping hot cocoa, they would begin to wonder why we were being so nice to them. And ultimately, I hoped they would discover an even greater source of warmth than our heater could provide — the warmth of Jesus as He filled their hearts with His love.
For the next few hours, I passed out dozens of hot dogs and cups of cocoa. Many times, I was asked why. Each time, the answer was simple — We’re here simply because Jesus loves you. And He would want you to feel warm and fed.
That evening, I met Catherine by the heater. She was wearing a school girl costume and she was breathtakingly beautiful. She was desperate for warmth… and not just the warmth that comes from heaters. I could see the desperation and fear in her eyes. But there was also a glimmer of hope.
As we talked, I could tell God was meeting Catherine in a way I couldn’t explain. I could see the same brokenness in her smile that I once felt so strongly. And as we talked, the conversation quickly got very deep. She was open… transparent… vulnerable.
“My dad is dying of brain cancer,” she said as tears spilled from her eyes. “I don’t know why I’m telling you, except that you just feel safe because you’re a Christian.”
I felt this strong sense of God’s love and compassion. The Bible says that God makes His home with the lonely. And I knew He was making His home with Catherine right now. She could feel Him even as I too felt Him.
Catherine told me that she was really scared. She didn’t know if her dad would survive. And lately, she had been looking for comfort in relationships with guys. But it all felt so empty.
God gave me gentle words to share with Catherine. “You’re so loved by God,” I said. “You’re incredibly valuable. You’re very beautiful. You’re so cherished! And God longs to be close to you…to know you.”
Then I shared my testimony with her. I told her about times in my life where I felt broken and lost like she felt tonight. I told her how God met me in those moments and brought me comfort and hope.
“I really feel like things are going to turn around for me too,” Catherine said. “What you’re sharing means so much to me. And that’s not just the alcohol speaking.”
I knew it wasn’t!
As I prayed for Catherine, I thought of the God who comes to make His home with lonely people in dark places. He pursues us, even when He’s the furthest thing from our minds. And as Catherine walked away to find her friends, I knew God wasn’t done chasing her.
Throughout the rest of the night I kept picturing Jesus dressed up in a costume and handing out hot chocolate and hot dogs…. loving, serving, giving, never asking for anything in return. And so, if you asked me what I did on Halloween, I’d say:
“I went outside. I spent time with people that Jesus loves. I expressed that love by meeting practical needs and sharing conversation and prayer with those in desperate need. And I discovered that Jesus was truly the warmth we felt on this cold Halloween night!”