CBF Missouri / General CBF

Missouri Congregations Unite for Homeless Community

Project Homeless Connect volunteers took a day in April 2019 to help the homeless community find their way through three neighboring churches on East Capitol Avenue in Jefferson City. Resources like health check ups, free food and information on community’s social service agencies were provided.

By Kristen Thomason

 “Two in a bed warm each other.
Alone, you shiver all night.

By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, The Message

For the homeless community in Jefferson City, MO, First Baptist Church of Jefferson City is a guardian. By partnering with two neighboring churches, they’ve created a lifeline for those struggling in their community. Over the last seven years, First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church and First Christian Church have joined to host Project Homeless Connect: a day-long resourcing event that connects the unhoused with the healthcare, basic necessities and information they need.

Missouri is one of 24 states experiencing an increase in homelessness. Rising rents are pushing people out of their homes and onto the streets. When a tornado struck the area in 2019, Jefferson City was forced to demolish 152 low-income apartments damaged in the storm. Now residents are facing a four year wait for section 8 housing vouchers with no guarantee that landlords will accept them.

It’s a daunting challenge for a single congregation, but three working together helped 139 participants. The 76 individuals who were unhoused and 63 insecure in housing and received the assistance they needed. “When Christians cooperate, the love of God shines through and enriches all of us,” said Rev. Melissa Hatfield, Pastor of Youth and Missions at First Baptist Church, said.

Nursing students from Lincoln University volunteered at First Baptist Church Jefferson City to check participants’ blood pressure and blood sugar.

The three host churches are located within a one-minute walk of one another along East Capitol Avenue in Jefferson City. Each includes different services for those taking part in Project Homeless Connect. At First United Methodist Church, participants could shower, have a haircut and hot lunch before crossing the street to First Baptist Church, where the Community Health Center of Central Missouri offered medical and dental exams. Nursing students from Lincoln University also checked blood pressure and blood sugar. Next door at First Christian Church, social service agencies from the community provided information on housing, employment, public transportation, substance abuse and mental health. Volunteers from all three churches escorted participants through the maze of available resources.

Working together on Project Homeless Connect has brought the neighboring congregations closer. For Hatfield “there is a deeper bond between these cooperating churches who have found common ground around the call to be the hope and presence of Christ in our community.”

Not only have the three worshiped and fellowshipped together, but have also worked with other local congregations to form the Common Ground Community Building. This community service agency provides rent and utility assistance to prevent homelessness.

Churches put a pause on worship one Sunday to come together in Project Homeless Connect where they offered the homeless in Jefferson City, MO health care resources and free food.

“Being able to pay the deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment can keep someone from being homeless and give them time to get next month’s rent. Most churches can’t afford to do that effectively, but with cooperation it can be done,” said Dr. Lory Feeler, FBC member and Common Ground board member said.

For families who are already unhoused, Common Ground provides transitional housing and offers a network of support from community-based partners to help them achieve financial independence.

“One of the lessons we’ve learned over the years from multiple mission partners is to live and serve with humility and curiosity,” Feeler said.

This attitude of “humility and curiosity” is at the heart of First Baptist’s relationships with its partners. Each church has its own beliefs and experiences when it comes to doing missions. But rather than become territorial, “We have to continually fight the urge to think we know best or that our way is the only way.” The key, according to Hatfield, is to remember the invitation to die to self and ego applies to congregations too.

The partnership between these local churches has been noticed in the community.

“I think many in our community would recognize these churches as congregations who live what they believe and model unity,” said Hatfield.

First Baptist Church, First Christian Church and First United Methodist Church hosted Project Homeless Connect as a day for participants to use many resources for their health. The vehicle provided free dental and medical exams.

 United by their love of Jesus and love for the people of Jefferson City, volunteers from area churches will be gathering again to serve their community on the last Sunday of April for “Mission JC.”

Mission JC started in 2013 when members of First Baptist Church gave up their regular Sunday morning worship service and instead worshiped through serving at various projects across the city. Word spread and each year more churches have been inspired to join First Baptist in Mission JC. In 2019, 700 volunteers from 11 area churches at 60 service project sites gave back to the community by doing everything from planting trees at the local park to baking cookies for hospital staff. More evidence that, as Hatfield says, “When the people of God work and pray together, miracles happen. We are better together.”

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