We invited American Baptists from across the country to share their Ministry Stories with the American Baptist Family and with the world! This is a part of the Transformed by the Spirit initiative. Want to share your story? Written and Video submissions are invited at: firstname.lastname@example.org. View the full list of Ministry Story Opportunity Submissions.
Helping God’s Forgotten People: a congregation adapts to changing times
Transformed by the Spirit – Ministry Story Opportunity
Grace Baptist Church, San Jose, CA
‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:35
Christ calls us to attend to the basic needs of “the least of these.” Grace Baptist Church of San Jose, California, has been trying to practice this edict for several decades, but more so in these past few years when the Lord called Grace to serve San Jose’s homeless population. Grace’s mission to help God’s homeless started when now retired Senior Pastor Daryl Lavway allowed a homeless man to sleep near the church where he felt safe. More homeless flocked to us as word spread that Grace was a safe haven. Today many homeless men and women sleep on the church property where they feel safe and secure due to night supervisors that keep an eye on them while they sleep.
More was asked of us, however, as our church community embraced various nonprofit organizations to rent available space inside the Grace facilities. As an urban church, Grace saw the neighborhood around us change over the past decades. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs, Grace decided to stay in the downtown area to serve God’s people. As membership declined over the years, the church’s vision and mission needed to change as we adapted to the changes in the community.
With lots of empty space within the church buildings, Grace first rented space to a San Jose Community Center which offers services to the mentally ill and homeless, as well as those on parole. Then came NA and AA programs, followed by the nonprofit Downtown Streets Team that works with the homeless to find jobs and housing. The partnerships with these admirable nonprofits solidified our mission of reaching out to the neediest in our neighborhood.
Still the Lord wanted more from Grace’s members. Following the Spirit’s lead, we welcomed the homeless into our church services even though they were sometimes disruptive. Often the odors were not pleasant as our extended family
did not have a place to shower or wash their clothes. It became difficult for church members to enjoy the Coffee Hour fellowship amidst the unpleasant smells. What to do?
Rev. Lavway decided that in conjunction with the Community Center, Grace would provide free showers and laundry service to the homeless. After winning a $10,000 grant from the San Jose Mercury News’ annual “Wish List” campaign, Grace built additional shower space and purchased towels, soap, shampoo. We were now ready to provide our homeless community some basic necessities, not to mention a good measure of hope and dignity. As one of our clients recently said, getting a shower “makes you feel viable.” The shower and laundry program made an incredible difference in the lives of our loved ones.
Community Center employees and volunteers now run a free shower and laundry program twice weekly, serving about 60 people each week.
A concerned neighbor brought to our attention that there was nowhere else in the city of San Jose where homeless women could shower; the only other facility in the city that provided this benefit to homeless women had shut its doors. She
generously offered to fund our shower program for two additional days each week. Grace is now the only provider in San Jose of free showers and laundry service exclusively for the city’s homeless women.
What’s next for Grace Baptist Church? Only the Lord knows. The ministries we embark on come with a lot of challenges, but we know we are ministering where He wants us and lifting up His children in love. Every day at Grace we see the transforming power of the Spirt at work in our community. We will continue to expand our ministries as Christ calls us and strive every day to love our neighbors: the many homeless people who are often unwanted and unloved in this world.