LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When the professionally dressed woman drove up in a late-model car, Randall Harvey assumed she had come to help serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Jefferson Street Baptist Center, Louisville, Ky.
With the line spilling onto the sidewalk, the center director said she didn’t need to wait and directed her to the kitchen.
“I’m here to eat,” she replied. Seeing the shock on his face, she asked, “You don’t have to be poor to eat here, do you?”
Harvey replied she didn’t and explained his misunderstanding. As they talked, she shared this story:
A professional in her late 40s, the woman had once worked in an office. Then she experienced visible shaking fits. After several rounds of tests, doctors diagnosed Parkinson’s Disease.
Because of its rapid progression, doctors said she would be unable to hold a job. Although she had qualified for unemployment, those payments had ended. In addition, her application for disability payments had been held up.
Her lack of income had forced her to drop her medical insurance and she told Harvey she expected the bank to soon repossess her car. If something didn’t happen, she said, she would wind up on the street.
Sighing, she noted how sad it was to have lived solely for her home and job, and now it looked like she would lose both.
“Why do you this?” she suddenly asked. “Why do you feed people?”
After Harvey explained it was part of their ministry, the woman said, “I knew this was some kind of Christian organization but I don’t know much about Christianity. I always wondered why people were willing to go to church every week to worship a man who died 2,000 years ago.”
“I told her about Christ coming to earth, but told her he didn’t stay dead,” said the graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. “I told her how he rose again on the third day and everyone who believes in him can have eternal life.”
“This is a step I need to make,” she replied.
And there on a crowded downtown sidewalk, both the woman and her teenage son — Harvey didn’t realize he had been listening — prayed and accepted Jesus as their Savior.
Those were two of more than 40 salvations registered last year at the center, which offers various social services to the homeless and inner-city residents.
Rolfe Dorsey, church development director for Long Run Baptist Association, said if the center were a church it would rank among associational leaders in conversions.
He credited Harvey for the salvations that last year were quadruple the number reported there in 1994.
“Randall has led his people into leading others to seek Jesus,” said Dorsey, who also chairs the association’s evangelism committee. “He’s released them to acknowledge Christ and witness to other people.
“That’s a different venue for reaching people. It’s almost like a foreign mission field. There are a lot of unsaved people and you have to find them. At Jefferson Street, the unsaved people find them.”
And they find Christ. Two days after Thanksgiving, half a dozen clients who live at the center attended a chili dinner and benefit concert at Meadow Hills Baptist Church.
The following week a resident approached Harvey to relate how the Journeymen Quartet convinced him he needed to accept Christ. Although he attended church growing up, the man became angry when the Lord didn’t heal him of mental illness.
“Their music made me think about the gospel,” he said. “I realized how shallow my view of God was.”
A week later, the man told Harvey he had read through the Bible. Soon after he attended church with a relative for the first time in years.
Harvey heard many other touching stories during 1996, like the street person who had vanished. He reappeared last year wearing a one- year sobriety medal from Alcoholics Anonymous. He credited the center with steering him to Christ, who enabled him to shed his addiction to alcohol.
Another man learned to read after Harvey directed him to a literacy program. He then found a job at a convenience store and later earned a promotion to assistant manager.
“The Lord still saves people and brings about radical changes in their lives,” said Dorsey of the ministry to street people, which is partially funded by the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board.
“I think some of the characterizations of how different people are today are overblown. People are still people. They have the same needs they did 30, 50 or 100 years ago.”