PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) – If “you have 30, 60 seconds,” Pastor Jeff Henry is bound to tell you “an amazing story.”
There’s the time three years ago when Ensley First Baptist Church prayed and unanimously voted to open an addiction recovery and transitional housing program for women who are homeless.
“I kind of said out loud a few times, maybe we could fund this program we’re going to do, we could do food trucks and not thrift stores,” Henry said. “And it was about a week or two later, Gary called me and he said, ‘I’ve got an opportunity to buy a thrift store that I’d like to buy and give it to the church to support the new program called A Future and A Hope Women’s Recovery Program.”
That’s Gary Grimes, “an excellent Bible teacher, by the way” at Ensley First Baptist.
As the church prepares to accept applications for the 15-bed transitional housing facility on the second floor of the church, proceeds from the thrift store will help fund it and provide opportunities for ladies enrolled in the program to gain work experience.
Another “amazing story” from Henry: A few months ago, when the church learned it needed to hire an architect to add a sprinkler system to the facility before it could be occupied, Henry announced the need on social media. A man from an architectural firm did a walkthrough and left a business card.
“And then, I went before the church and I prayed that God would help us satisfy the Lord and Caesar,” Henry said. “In other words, I wanted everything to be up to code and to be right with the state, a safe building for women to live.”
About a week later, a church member encouraged him to listen to his prayer again on the livestream.
“And while I’m watching myself pray to satisfy God and Caesar, a light went on in my head,” Henry said, “and I looked down and I picked up that business card, and the lead architect’s name is Caesar.”
The firm installed the sprinkler system, a $50,000 project, at no cost.
Such generosity is how the church of about 45 Sunday worshipers undertook the task of opening the center that will provide free housing, substance abuse recovery, Bible study, mentoring, job training, food and clothing for residents enrolled in the program. The church worked about five years to raise funds to renovate the top floor of the church building to house the center.
“It’s the body of Christ coming together to work and help the least of these,” Henry said. “It’s churches and businesses and Christians in the community. We have a facility that’s in a good location for this type of ministry.”
Stays in the structured, work-based and Christ-centered program will optimally be about a year, but could range between eight and 18 months. Women enrolled in the program will be screened and must pass a drug test before entry. The center will teach women basic life skills including budgeting, help them get jobs and open bank accounts, and continue counseling them for a few months after they graduate.
Proceeds from the Cross Roads Thrift Store have already been used to fully reimburse Grimes for the purchase and will help pay program costs including utilities and salaries for fulltime mentors, a director and others, Henry said. Grimes and his wife Jessica manage Cross Roads.
“For a woman to come through this program, we are trusting totally in Jesus Christ. He’s provided everything so far, and I believe He’s going to continue to provide,” Henry said. “And it costs the women who go through this program nothing, just surrender.
“We’re only asking them to surrender to Jesus in the program.”
A Future and A Hope, named from Jeremiah 29:11, is the latest ministry in the church’s outreach to the homeless. Started 12 years ago, it includes food distribution and preaching at homeless camps, a women and children’s cold weather shelter in the winter and Takin’ It to the Streets Homeless Ministry that picks up as many as 60-100 homeless residents for an afternoon Sunday worship service and meal. Henry has also conducted funerals for those who die while homeless.
Perhaps 50-100 churches have supported the homeless outreaches since their inception, Henry said, including Southern Baptist and other Christian churches. Henry is confident God will continue to provide for the ministry through the body of Christ and community support, and accepts donations online.
Cooperation among congregations allows smaller churches to better reach the communities they serve, Henry said.
“A lot of Southern Baptist churches being small, we’ve got to come together and work together, and that’s happening here,” Henry said. “Some churches have resources and some don’t, and when they work together it’s a beautiful thing. … It’s how God intended it, I believe.”