By Laura McKillip Wood
Revo’s family had nothing when they arrived in the United States. They pinned their hopes on a new life in the West after fleeing dangerous political unrest in Southeast Asia. After a long and difficult process, they settled in Omaha, Nebraska,. Their apartment had only the bare minimum Revo, his wife, and their children needed for survival. Not only did they have few furnishings, their children had no beds.
An organization named Sleep in Heavenly Peace heard about their situation—and the situation of many of their refugee neighbors—and sprang into action.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) is a nonprofit group that provides new twin beds, mattresses, and bedding to children in the community. SHP wasn’t specifically created as a religious organization; it consists of many different chapters started by various groups around the country. Some chapters, like the one in Omaha, were started by churches in an effort to reach out to their communities and show the love of Christ to people in tangible ways.
“SHP is a Good Samaritan situation; we have no agenda other than helping out kids in need,” said Dustin Fulton, who helped start the Omaha chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace when his church, Restore Community Church, began looking for a way to connect with the community. Restore was moving into a new facility, and people were working on the building together.
“As we were redoing the permanent facility,” Fulton said, “I saw all these guys with power tools who hadn’t been engaged with the life of the church before.” At about the same time, he saw an online video about Sleep in Heavenly Peace. The idea of starting a local chapter was born.
About 2 to 4 percent of the population of any community are kids who don’t have adequate bedding, Fulton said. They sleep on the floor or on couches. Sometimes they share beds with siblings or parents.
Beds are not essential for survival, of course, and struggling families often cannot purchase them for their children. While a bed may not be essential, having one does something important for a child. A warm, comfortable bed gives a child a sense of security; a bed provides stability and warmth in a world that may feel cold and harsh. A bed also relieves a little stress on the parents; the SHP program helps assure recipients that people in the community care about them and their children.
When the people at Restore Community Church heard about the need, they saw an opportunity to do something helpful for families. They started their SHP chapter in 2018 with a goal of providing 40 beds and bedding for children by the end of the first year.
A Crisis and a Need
Not long after the Omaha chapter started, a refugee crisis occurred in the city. Five hundred refugees from Myanmar who had recently been settled in the area by the U.S. government saw their apartment buildings condemned. They moved to other homes, which scattered them throughout the city and broke apart their supportive refugee community.
Since they had arrived in the country with few possessions, the refugees did not have furnishings for their apartments. Sleep in Heavenly Peace began building beds for the children. By the end of the year, SHP had built and delivered 133 beds, 100 of which went to refugees.
The next spring, the Omaha area experienced devastating floods. SHP again got to work, providing beds for 75 flood victims.
When a family needs a bed, the process of obtaining one begins with an online application. Families sometimes fill out the applications, but sometimes a social worker, interpreter, or foster care organization submits the application for them.
On selected build days, volunteers from Restore as well as people from businesses or community organizations bring their power tools and meet in a central location where they set up an assembly line to build the beds. The Omaha chapter has built as many as 100 beds in one day, Fulton said. If they build more beds than they need at that time, they may donate the extras to other chapters nearby.
Gifts for the Givers
Sleep in Heavenly Peace helps meet the needs of families, but it also serves as an outreach to those who work with the organization. Since Restore partners with other community organizations to build and distribute the beds, their members work alongside nonbelievers. The believers’ excitement spreads to those working with them. When nonbelievers see the care Christians have for people in the community, they see Christ working. Additionally, volunteering gives them a hands-on experience with people in need.
“One of the greatest things about SHP is how it brings people from different sides of town and different backgrounds together,” Fulton said. “While people can volunteer at a soup kitchen and do some good, they don’t actually go into the home of the person they’re feeding. With SHP we actually get into the homes of people who are refugees and people living in extreme poverty.”
Working to meet the needs of low-income families helps volunteers see the reality facing many people in the community, he said. It moves issues such as poverty and immigration from the abstract to the concrete. Volunteers can begin to see these issues not as political debates but as issues involving real people with real needs.
“That’s something our country needs a lot more of!” Fulton said.
What about Revo and his family? Sleep in Heavenly Peace delivered beds for his children and others in the refugee community.
“While working with Burmese refugees, we often went into their homes,” Fulton said. “The men would come out in bare feet and help us unload the beds, even though there was snow and ice on the ground, because they didn’t have proper shoes. Even though we were more than willing to carry the beds in, they wanted to have some ownership in it.”
Sleep in Heavenly Peace epitomizes people working together to care for one another. It is evidence of the gospel in action!
The Omaha chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace recently was part of Mike Rowe’s show Returning the Favor (Season 4, Episode 8, “The Firefighter Providing Furniture”). To watch it, go to www.facebook.com/ReturningTheFavor/videos/256845172147390.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now serves as the registrar at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska, and works as an on-call chaplain at a nearby hospital. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.