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Farmer carries God’s love to the down & out in central L.A.

LOS ANGELES (BP)–Ken Holladay, a farmer, heard God’s call three years ago to minister to skid row in downtown Los Angeles.

He obeyed.

Holladay since has traveled an hour and a half each way from his home in Fillmore, an agricultural town north of L.A., to pass out New Testaments every Friday and Sunday and get to know the people on the streets.

“At first I thought I was going to win every drug addict and homeless person on these streets to Christ instantly,” said Holladay, 59, the father of eight children. “It didn’t work that way. One day I told God I would tag along with him and that’s when he led me to people who were open to the Gospel. I call it a tag-a-long ministry.”

Holladay targeted the Ford Hotel, with apartments the size of an average king-sized bed, after a drug dealer directed him there. The multi-story hotel is home to more than 500 people who share common bathrooms and are not allowed to have cooking appliances.

“At first they would only let me in for five minutes every Friday,” said Holladay, who also owns a fertilizer business. “I would go into the learning center they use as a play area for kids after school. I would read to the kids and play with them.”

After a couple of months of consistently showing up, the hotel manager allowed Holladay to visit longer; a year ago, he was allowed to hold church services in the hotel lobby.

Russ Brewer, a fellow member of First Baptist Church in Fillmore, began helping Holladay with the preaching last year. Now they minister as a team.

An average Sunday will bring 10-20 residents and homeless people to the church service where worship music is provided by CDs and Holladay’s wife, Marion, teaches a Sunday School class for several children.

Holladay does not keep track of the decisions that have been made but believes there have been many.

He will never forget the first convert.

“Ken helped me by saying, ‘Hi, how are you?'” Laman Hall, the first man in the area Holladay led to a relationship with Christ, said. “He took a lot of time with me and read the Bible to me. We stopped under a tree and prayed. I’ve been happy ever since. He’s done a lot for me.”

Although Laman calls his two shopping carts filled with his possessions “home” wherever he is each night, he faithfully shows up for the hotel church services.

“A lot of people wouldn’t welcome me or didn’t understand me, but Ken did,” Hall said. “I feel so good when I go to his church because I am welcome.”

Holladay named the church, sponsored by First Baptist Fillmore, “One at a Time Bible Fellowship.”

Each Friday, Holladay, a Gideon, and Brewer walk the halls praying for residents or passing out Bibles.

“There are a lot of churches who come in here for an event and then leave,” said Brewer, who said he wishes he could move to the area. “But you have to get to know them and show you love them with your consistency. They know our names and we know theirs. Once we see people get their lives right with the Lord, we don’t see them anymore because they get straightened up and all areas of their lives are better. They are able to move away from here.”

The church recently got permission from the Campers Corner bar to hold services there on Sunday mornings as well.

“We’ve been praying for this for a long time,” said Holladay, who hopes to hold a Spanish-speaking service in the bar. “This is exciting. I had one drug dealer tell me he would come to church if it was in the bar. I’ve been coming in here for a long time getting Cokes and talking with the management.”

“This is a much-needed ministry because so many of these people have fallen through the cracks,” said Don Overstreet, a church plant strategist for the Inland Empire Baptist Association in Riverside, Calif., who has been working with Holladay. “These are not pastors [Holladay and Brewer]; they are church members who felt a call and had a burden to minister and went out and did it on their own. It is a unique situation. No one else is doing what they have done consistently.”

Holladay, who grew up with a confederate flag flying in his South Carolina home, felt convicted to give up his prejudice against black people four years ago.

“I was at a Promise Keepers event and God spoke to me, and then He led me to a black man at the stadium who became a best friend of mine,” said Holladay, who shares his testimony when he visits relatives in South Carolina. “God took my prejudice toward black people away and placed me in a ministry for them. I love them and now they are my best friends.”

Holladay does not get paid but is constantly looking for donations to improve the lives of the residents and children of the Ford Hotel.

A podium and 75 chairs were donated for the church services. Each Sunday he buys doughnuts and coffee for church attendees.

“My goal is to open a church in one hotel lobby a month in this area,” Holladay said. “My reward is seeing people come to know Christ.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, LOVING THE OVERLOOKED and INCREASING THE FLOCK.

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  • Kelli Cottrell