HEIDELBERG, Germany -- HOPE (Helping Others Prosper Eternally) Ministry and the American Catholic Teen group provided a charity Christmas dinner for more than 50 homeless men and women Dec. 11 in a Heidelberg church auditorium.
The hall was decked in pine boughs, ribbon and tree lights, matching the festive air. A few live musical performances filled the auditorium with carols, gospel and even some blues.

"Every year, it's the same atmosphere," shouted Rarry over the music and laughter.
Rarry (a nickname) has long been an attendee to HOPE's Christmas dinners. With fingerless gloves, he carried a box of leftovers.

"[It is] very good food," he smiled. Then he turned serious as he gestured to his dining companions. "For the people that are sad, that drink too much and all, Joe is the reason they are here ... why we are here."

Joe is Joe Lewis, founder of HOPE ministry and a U.S. Army veteran who was stationed in Germany.

Once homeless and a drug addict himself, Lewis has the unique perspective necessary to understand his ministry's needs.

"Nobody wants to have a Bible and cross shoved in their face and hear, 'Repent, repent!'" he said. "Show me love. I want them [the homeless]to form a unity, a fellowship, like we're doing here today. That's most important."

The Catholic Teen Group was responsible for serving the dinner, weaving between the tables wearing Santa hats and smiles on their faces. While only 10 volunteers were needed, a dozen or so teens came to help, bringing fresh baked cookies and plenty of good cheer.

"It's just something you want to be a part of," Carrie Smith shrugged modestly. Smith and Katie Perrotta, both seniors at Heidelberg High School, organized the teen volunteers and raised funds for this event.

"These kids are awesome," Lewis said, "I can't imagine doing this without them."
At the end of the meal, although the food was gone and the tablecloths were taken up, the auditorium was still full of people. Jennifer White, deputy chairman of HOPE, explained.

"Nobody wants to leave after dinner because everyone wants to hear Joe's prayer," she said.
Lewis then took the stage and delivered a heartfelt prayer in German, which White translated.

"Please let us enjoy one another and be grateful for this holiday season, for tomorrow is not promised. The reason I do this and we do this is because we have all had problems. The Savior says you don't have to be alone. He is here today, and he can be there, in your heart. I don't want anything less than this for you."

As the crowd dispersed, Lewis was approached by almost everyone with handshakes, hugs and even a few handmade gifts. He and his wife received each with warmth and a fondness that so many only reserve for family.

Lewis saw them to the door, and then sat for a moment's rest at a now empty table.
"It's important for people to be aware of others' situations, because then they can truly appreciate how awesomely blessed we are," he said.

HOPE sponsors many events during the year and is always looking for partners, donations and volunteers. For information about HOPE Ministry, visit www.hopeministry.de.