Pastors ‘open it up!’ to house homeless on cold nights

Betty BeanUncategorized

It was nearly 8:30 and some of the guests in the gym-turned-dormitory at Eternal Life Harvest Center were starting to turn down the covers on their beds. Homeless guys like to turn in early, when they get the chance, and it was time for me to wind up my interviews and let them rest. As the Rev. Ashley Kariuki walked me to the door, she told me that her mentor and surrogate father, the late Pastor James Davis, had very strong feelings about the church’s place in the community.

“He told us, ‘Open it up! Open it up!’ And that’s what we are doing,” she said.

Icy needles of sleet whipped our faces when she opened the door for me.

Ashley and her husband, Evans, were appointed co-pastors at Eternal Life after founding pastor Davis, who grew the church from a small congregation in a tiny Mechanicsville storefront, died last month. A few weeks later, the weather turned bitterly cold, and the congregation made the decision to participate in Knox Area Rescue Ministries’ Room at the Inn program, which provides warming centers for the homeless, complete with fellowship, a hot meal and a comfortable bed on nights when the temperatures drop below freezing.

The plan came together after Evans and some men from the church decided to investigate rumors that people were freezing to death under the interstate bridge at Broadway and Magnolia where the homeless congregate. They got some gear together and headed for the Mission District.

“The Bible calls us to reach out to the homeless, the hungry, the widow, the prisoners – so we knew what to do. It was really cold. I was shivering. I said, ‘This is too cold and we’ve got to do something.’ I heard that three people died. I asked what God called us to do, talked to men from the church, and we packed our bags and went under the bridge. My toes froze. My nose froze. Everything froze,” Evans said.

“When we got there, guns pulled out. The night before, there’d been a robbery and everyone was so tense. We told them, ‘We’re coming to spend the night.’ They said, “Give us the food and y’all can go back’ We said, ‘No. We didn’t bring anything but our Bibles.’

“They said, ‘No food? No cocoa?’ And the first hour they were just watching us. But after awhile, we had a campfire, shared the word of God and made friendships. From there, we knew what to do. Jesus was a friend of sinners. He hung with people who are forgotten in the community, so we must do the same. We’ve been able to touch over 50 lives since we started.”

Evans, who is a native of Nairobi, Kenya, met Ashley Coward in 2002. She was running a campus ministry at the University of Tennessee. She grew up in Mechanicsville, a stone’s throw from the church, and was a star basketball player at West High School. She introduced him to her church.

“Pastor Davis took me in, and he was the only father I knew,” Evans said.

Both the Kariukis have master’s degrees and, thanks to Davis, degrees from bible college as well. They said that they, and their congregation, are committed to helping find solutions for homelessness.

“We offer a warm bed, a warm meal and great fellowship. Our facilities will continue to be open as much as God allows us to be,” said Evans.

“These are souls. These are lives. We’re charged to love God and love others, passionately. Homeless does not mean hopeless and you have to be able to separate a person from their situation. We all have a situation. We ALL do. If someone’s house is burning, do you go ask them, ‘Hey, have you paid your rent?’ No. You go save them – get them out. We are firemen here to rescue, and we’ll rescue down to the last one. God will take care of the rest.”

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