The power to uplift the homeless is the love of Jesus Christ

September 06, 2023

By Rev. Woojae Im

“...Its beginning and root grew necessarily out of injustice. Why? Because God did not make this man rich and that man poor from the beginning. Nor, when God created the world, did God allot such treasure to one man [human being], and forbid another to seek any. God gave the same earth to be cultivated by all. Since, therefore, God’s bounty is common, how comes it that you have so many fields, and your neighbor not even a clod of earth? ...The idea we should have of the rich and covetous—they are truly as robbers, who, standing in the public highway, despoil the passers.[1]

As polarization and disconnect in the world grow as the new normal each day, which does not dishearten many of us anymore, the Connections Ministry stands out as a manifestation of Christ’s unwavering love and compassion for those who experience homelessness. Since its humble beginning in 2017, Connections Ministry has been a champion of radical hospitality in Mankato area that provides shelter, community, and dignity to the underprivileged in need. It truly connects people to one another, to a community, and to our God. The incredible journey of the Connections Ministry is nothing but inspiration, teaching us what “starting from scratch” looks like. At the end, I will invite you to sing with me a song, “This little light of mine.”
From Food to Shelter

With an unwavering commitment to making a difference, Connections Ministry began providing shelter from November to March in various churches, rotating weekly between eight churches with 25 beds. They also established a small paid staff team of four individuals dedicated to their mission.

Deacon Erica Koser emerged as a key figure in this endeavor, leading the effort alongside a colleague from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). After rotating between churches for two seasons, they found a single location to operate from. However, their journey faced a major challenge when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing them to temporarily relocate guests to a hotel setting.

In 2020, Connections Ministry found a new home at First Presbyterian Church, expanding their capacity to provide shelter with an additional 15 beds and increasing their staff to 11 members. Erica Koser left her appointment at Centenary and began working full-time for Connections, eventually becoming its executive director.

From Shelter to Community

In response to the evolving needs of their guests, Connections Ministry added a daytime drop-in center where individuals can engage in case management. Additionally, they began reaching out to those newly experiencing homelessness in the area through a street outreach specialist. This proactive approach has been instrumental in identifying and assisting those in crisis.

Connections Ministry now serves between 115 and 170 guests each cold season, allocating 20 beds for men and the remainder for women and families. Their unique approach allows guests to stay for as long as they need, providing them with stability and hope.

One of the standout features of Connections Ministry is its partnership with the Mayo Family Residency, offering a weekly, no-cost on-site clinic. This invaluable resource ensures that guests receive the medical attention and treatment they desperately need, often proving to be life-saving. Adjacent to the shelter, Connections Ministry established Shelter Church, recognized by the ELCA as a worshiping community. Under Erica Koser's leadership, this congregation of approximately 25-35 members gathers each week for 30 minutes of worship and communion, following the Holy Grounds Breakfast ministry.
Transforming Lives with Your Prayers and Supports

For those looking to get involved, Connections Ministry welcomes church volunteers to bring or serve meals at the shelter. Donations, whether monetary or in-kind, are also greatly appreciated, and Connections Ministry often runs donation drives for essential items.

In terms of future plans, Connections Ministry is working tirelessly with the city, county, and Partners for Housing to build a brand-new 65-bed shelter, drop-in center, and clinic in Mankato. They are actively pursuing grant opportunities and preparing to launch a capital campaign. This new shelter, expected to open in 2025, promises to further enhance their ability to serve those experiencing homelessness.

Heartfelt Testimonies

The impact of Connections Ministry is perhaps best captured by the heartfelt words of their guests:
  • "Connections doesn't feel like a shelter; the people really care for you." - Doug
  • "This is the closest thing I have had to a home in my whole life." - JK
  • "You guys love us just the way we are, even when we are kinda unlovable." - NG
  • "Pastor Erica is this community's pastor. She is always there when we need her." - Jason
How do we uplift the homeless? We cannot but with the love of Jesus Christ. How do people see light in darkness where there seems no hope? Maybe if we let our little light shine.

As I sat down at a table with Rev. Erica Koser, listening to her journey with the Connections Ministry, a baptismal vow of our belove church came to my mind: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” I answered, “SHE DOES.”

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine (x3). Let it shine (x3)” So be it.

Rev. Woojae Im is the district superintendent for the Southern Prairie District.
[1] John Chrysostom, St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy, Homily XII: 1Tim. iv.1-10. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Father of the Christian Church, Vol. XIII, p. 448. Ed. Philip Shcaff. Erdmans, 1979. (First published c. 1850)

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