The Rev. Steve Whitaker, president, CEO and senior pastor of John 3:16 Mission in Tulsa, makes sure those facing homelessness feel cared for during the holidays. Whitaker is a 10th-generation minister who has worked with the mission for nearly 30 years. We caught up with Whitaker and got his thoughts on …

… helping others during the holidays.

If we all lived in a Hallmark movie, everyone would certainly give of their time, talent and treasure to help others. The verdict may still be out on whether Hallmark movies are loved or hated, but that is one thing they definitely get right. During the holidays, the homeless will tell you that their No. 1 issue is loneliness. Hallmark movie or no, it’s important to do all we can to meet the real and emotional needs of people who are hurting and homeless.

… the mission’s activities.

It still amazes me how many people still think of John 3:16 Mission as a soup kitchen. To be sure, a key focus at John 3:16 is our effort to eradicate hunger. But more than that, John 3:16 Mission offers comprehensive, residential recovery opportunities for people trying to escape homelessness. We have activity on top of activity for persons who are a part of our residential program, or others who walk in off the streets celebrating the holidays with festive activities. Faith is a crucial part of what we do here, and the cornerstone of our faith is compassion. For those who find themselves hungry, alone and lost during the holidays, we want to make sure they know they are cared for and loved.

… how to help.

Be your most generous. It’s exciting to see that as a nation, we are all doing just a little bit better from an economic standpoint. But for those experiencing poverty … their circumstances remain dire. The best thing you can do is simply be kindhearted and generous not only during the holidays, but throughout the entire year.

… his experiences at the mission.

I have so many memories that it is hard to choose just one. But if I were to share my favorite story, it would be about a time when I was sharing the story of the prodigal son during a chapel service. The prodigal son asks for his inheritance early and then proceeds to squander it. Later, he finds himself indebted and working a job feeding pigs. The son “came to himself” – realized the error of his ways – and went back home to be reconciled with his father. The story is an allegory of the relationship between God and man. My challenge to the congregation was to go home – reconcile with your heavenly father and everyone else for that matter – before you get to the pigpen. One of them did. He called me a few years ago and told me he had been home 10 years, sober, and taking care of his family.

… John 3:16’s bottom line.

Life transformation. Providing shelter matters; feeding matters; programs matter. But a changed life is our highest goal.