Trio of Cold Night Out Shelter guests baptized


Sitting down to talk to Tammy Wilcoxin, one would soon find out she has been through a lot in her life.

She became a widow more than three years ago and was diagnosed with lupus last year.

Then after her fiance ended up in prison, she wound up on the streets and began using drugs.

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A little more than two weeks ago, she became clean from drugs, but she didn’t have a roof over her head.

“It was hard, but I’ve been homeless before,” Wilcoxin said. “I was born and raised in Chicago, so it’s nothing that I haven’t seen.”

On a recent Sunday, she said she was about ready to give up on life. She grabbed a Bible and told God, “I need help. I want to give up. Show me the way.”

A text message from Karen Browning with Double Down Outreach was sent the day before but didn’t come through to Wilcoxin’s phone until Sunday morning. Browning let her know about the Cold Night Out Shelter.

The project began from community discussions by Bethel Community Church in Seymour. After learning about the homelessness issue in the county, the Rev. Dr. Sondra Gentry realized people of faith should step up to help, so she talked to various pastors and lay leaders.

From Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, churches are asked to serve as a shelter for one week when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

Just recently, though, it was decided to have the shelter open every night.

“That was my answer. It was my way to get healed,” Wilcoxin said of Browning’s message about the shelter. “It’s overwhelming. A lot of tears.”

Since receiving help from the shelter, Wilcoxin said she has a job and has a roof over her head because she is living with her stepdaughter.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” she said. “I loved everyone involved in the program. I made a lot of friends.”

On Tuesday, she had another life-changing experience when she was baptized by Gentry and Browning at Central Christian Church in Seymour.

“It was a major step in my life,” she said. “It has been a long time coming, a very long time. I almost gave up on my faith when I lost my husband. I did back away from it for a while. This past Sunday was the first time in almost four years that I stepped foot in a church for a service.”

Seeing people supporting her and two men who also were baptized Tuesday made Wilcoxin emotional.

She now has a new lease on life.

“I’ve been through a lot in my short 42 years of life, but God has always brought me through it,” she said. “There’s not a storm that I cannot get through.”

She’s also motivated to help homeless people she knows.

“It’s going to help me hopefully help friends of mine that are going through the same situation,” she said. “It’s going to give me the power to help others that I believe need to have the help.”

She already has helped one homeless man.

“I gave my last dollar the other day because I didn’t need it, but he needed it more than me,” she said. “He needed a hot cup of coffee.”

Tuesday’s baptisms started with Gentry offering a prayer.

“Thank you, Father, for giving us this opportunity to be present for what you’re doing in their lives,” she said. “We thank you, Lord, that we can be present as you journey with them and as they begin the first day of their life as a Christian and they mark that day with the baptism that takes them into a new life, a new way of thinking and into a new company.”

She also thanked all of the people gathered to witness the baptisms.

“Lord, that’s such an honor that we get to be present for that,” Gentry said. “We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit that accompanies baptism, for the smile of Jesus that says, ‘Father, it was so worth it,’ and for the Father, who said, ‘I knew in the beginning that my children would come home to me.’

“Today, we mark that journey home and all of the joy that it brings and all of the wonder of following Christ,” she said. “To Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father, we give you glory and honor, and we thank you.”

Then Pastor Gary Dyer from Seymour Harvest Church stepped into the warm water to baptize two men.

Dyer called that moment “frightful excitement” for the men.

“The seriousness of it is you’re going down into this water representing the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and they are watching,” he said. “When one gives his heart to the Lord and goes down, they stand around and rejoice. Heaven is standing in awe when one gives his heart to God.”

Dyer said he wore black to represent the sin in one’s life, white for purity and red for the blood Jesus shed.

He asked each man to clamp their nose before he dipped them into the water to wash away their sins.

“When you go down in this water, you’re representing what Jesus did at the Jordan River,” Dyer said. “I’ve been telling you to expect to be filled with the Holy Ghost. It’s a promise. If he gives it to me, he wants to give it to you. It’s a gift. It’s a promise to bring glory and honor to him. What we do today is about God almighty himself. I’m baptizing you in the holy name of Jesus Christ.”

After each man rose up out of the water, they were greeted with cheers and claps.

Mark Borcherding was the second one to be baptized. He said he experienced a lot of ups and downs for six months and was around the wrong people, in the wrong places and made poor decisions.

“I just got tired of the lifestyle,” he said.

Since being connected to the Cold Night Out Shelter, he received help from Gentry, other pastors and volunteers and was able to reconnect with a longtime friend.

“It has been one good thing after another,” Borcherding said. “I’m thankful.”

Being baptized added to the positives in his life now.

“It was a big personal decision, and I was nervous and excited both at the same time,” he said. “It was a big decision and a new life. I’m appreciative, thankful, grateful, hopeful and loved.”

Wilcoxin was the last one to be baptized. Gentry and Browning helped her into the water and then sang and took turns reading.

“Baptism marks the beginning of our Christian journey. There is a time of initiation and responsibility and commitment to Christ. Through the cleansing of the water, we lay down our old selves and are born again as new creations in Christ,” Gentry said.

“Through baptism, we are united eternally with Christ,” Browning said. “Make us worthy, dear Lord.”

Then they dipped Wilcoxin into the water, drawing cheers and applause.

“Now, I belong to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to me. Not for the time on Earth I spend, but for eternity,” Browning sang.

“Welcome to the family,” she said to Wilcoxin.

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The Cold Night Out Shelter project began from community discussions by Bethel Community Church in Seymour.

After speaking with the community and realizing the issue, the Rev. Dr. Sondra Gentry realized people of faith should step up to help with the homelessness issue.

From this, discussions began with various pastors and lay leaders. Each church is asked to host for one week during the time of Dec. 1 to Feb. 28.

Initially, the shelters only activated when the temperature dropped below 32 degrees. Recently, however, it was changed to be offered every night, regardless of the temperature.

Guests should first go to The Alley, 416 E. Second St., Seymour, between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. for supper and intake. Transport to the shelter leaves a little before 6 p.m.

The shelter is open for single men, single women and families. Beds are limited, so people should check in with shelter staff as soon as they arrive.

Want to find out about becoming a host church in Jackson County? Six host churches are still needed. Contact Gentry at 317-590-2595.


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What: Jackson County Cold Night Out Shelter volunteer training

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Jan. 5

Where: Cornerstone Community Church, 1088 Sarasota Drive, Seymour

What to expect to hear: How the shelter got started, why it exists, what is expected of host churches, what is expected of volunteers, what opportunities are available for volunteers to serve in and what the schedule for the shelter looks like

Who should attend: Members of Cornerstone Community Church and Seymour Christian Church who plan to volunteer, Jackson County residents who would like to help (you don’t have to be affiliated with a church to volunteer) and anyone who has not attended an initial training session for Cold Night Out; child care is not provided for this meeting


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