Shalom Ministries Strengthen a Homeless Ministry
by Mary Beth Coudal
"Here's a place that loved me unconditionally
The homeless people who come to St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, find a place for a hot breakfast, dinner, a shower, clean laundry, AA meetings, HIV check-ups, job referrals, clean clothes, a haircut, and worship. They also find shalom. "Shalom," the Hebrew word for peace, means wholeness, health, and renewal. St. John's is one of 230 United Methodist churches engaged in Shalom Ministries.
What makes St. John's ministry, the Bread of Life, different from other homeless ministries is that it seeks to restore the whole person by offering many services and then encouraging people to stay for church service.
The Reverend Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church, explains, "One of the things that build self-esteem is to get personal help [from the church] and then come to worship and sit next to a person who makes six-figures and won't look down her nose at you or hold his nose. We embrace the entire community. We see healing on both sides of the serving table. You've got someone who comes only on Sunday sitting next to someone who comes for the personal services and lives on a bridge. We see Christ manifested in unconditional love. People who come know it's a place where they can stay. It's a church they can call home no matter what."
Pastor Rudy said, "Because we're downtown and because we have a whosoever-may- come policy, we have all kinds of people. Severely mentally challenged people find a place of safety and peace; they find a home. When they decide to pick themselves up, they remember, Here's a place that loved me unconditionally when I didn't love myself."
Pastor Rudy along with his wife and copastor Juanita Rasmus have seen the homeless ministry at St. John's transform the lives of those who've sought help. A short while ago, only a handful of homeless people came in for a hot meal during any given month; the church currently serves 6,500 meals per month.
Among those who served and those who received meals in mid-November were community and church workers from Shalom Zones around the country who visited the Bread of Life as part of the Shalom Summit, sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries. About 250 people attended the summit from November 13 to 15 to see how communities rebuild and renew a sense of shalom.
For that lunch, some Shalom Zone participants served and/or joined fellow diners at their tables, but everyone ate the same meal. "We don't serve anything that we don't eat ourselves," Pastor Rudy said.
The pastors at St. John's have been strengthened by the Shalom Zone connection. "We know we're not alone in changing the lives of the disinherited. The resources of the Shalom Zones--the support, including the emotional support--make this journey less lonely."The Shalom Zones Initiative
The Shalom Zones Initiative began as a way for the General Board of Global Ministries to respond to the 1992 Los Angeles riots that tore apart struggling neighborhoods. Initially, the focus was on troubled urban communities, but quite rapidly the program grew to include suburban and rural ministries, too. After all, the problems of broken neighborhoods within cities--homelessness, AIDS, substance abuse, and lack of opportunities for teens--are global. The Shalom program hopes to expand to communities around the world.
Lynda Byrd, the national director of Communities of Shalom, reported that two guests from Ghana attended the Shalom Summit. The West African guests said they hoped to build Shalom Zones in their own church communities, which will be uniquely different from other Shalom Zone communities.
Every Shalom Zone has an original focus. Change happens according to the community served and is not dictated by the church hierarchy. By supporting grassroots change, the Shalom ministry draws from a community's existing assets and human resources, thus strengthening, unifying, and healing neighborhoods. Ms. Byrd said, "Unless resources and the local people are involved and are part of the process, shalom will not succeed."
Ms. Byrd predicts that Shalom ministries will continue to grow. By the year 2000, she expects 300 Shalom sites will be situated in communities throughout the world.
The idea for Shalom communities comes from the Biblical mandate: "Build houses and live in them. . . . Seek the [shalom] of the community where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its [shalom], you will find your [shalom]." (Jeremiah 29:5, 7).
Date posted: Dec 18, 1998