Imagine being a church in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Many in your San Jose community enjoy abounding wealth as technology corporations experience unprecedented expansion. But you are also aware that some 7,000 San Jose residents, unable to afford the inflated housing market, are homeless.
Your congregation, Grace Baptist Church located across the street from San Jose State University, has only about 50 active members and resources are scarce. Your goal is to help the homeless, part of a social justice legacy based on faith that goes back 104 years at the church. What do you do?
Thanks to a $1,000 Matthew 25 Grant from American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) Grace Baptist Church purchased space heaters and blankets to house 20 students a night from San Jose State University who would otherwise be sleeping in their cars. The reality of homeless students had been discovered in a university survey that had discerned 300 of its students are enrolled but unable to afford housing. Pastor Liliana Da Valle, a native Argentinian and now a U.S. citizen, is profoundly grateful for the grant. Da Valle was once Executive Minister in Rhode Island for ABCUSA prior to becoming pastor at Grace.
The congregation has turned entrepreneurial in other ways in order to conduct an expanding ministry to the homeless, the centerpiece of its outreach.
An ABCUSA Mission Initiative Fund Grant has provided funds over a three-year period to help Grace Baptist Church provide winter shelter for 50 people a night. The congregation provides self-esteem and empowerment counseling and training to 20 of those individuals deemed most likely to be able to transition into community housing, Da Valle explains. The 20 each receive support and encouragement from a mentor, a cheerleader of sorts. They don’t pay any rent to the church during the training.
Grace has also prepared itself to be a Sanctuary Church. “If a father is picked up and deported, we are ready to host other family members and protect them in the church,” Da Valle explains. So far, the congregation has not received such a family to host. “But we are ready,” La Valle says.
In another part of the church homeless veterans are housed. They pay a modest rent. Other organizations with compatible missions help the little congregation survive. The church basement hosts a charter school for boys in foster care and who are leading troubled lives. The congregation receives support from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, both operating out of the congregation. The Downtown Streets Team, an outreach initiative to the homeless, also calls the congregation home.
“Grace Baptist Church’s efforts to support our students in their need is making a difference in their present and future lives,” says the Rev. Katherine Crowe, director of the Canterbury Bridge Episcopal College Ministry on San Jose State’s campus.
“We’ve got a real challenge in San Jose,” La Valle concludes. “There is only one shelter bed in our community for every seven people who are homeless.”
The Matthew 25 Grant initiative, sponsored by ABCUSA and the Board of General Ministries, is funded by a generous, anonymous donor whose goal is to meet the needs of “housing, feeding, education and health with regard to the less fortunate.” The application process for a Matthew 25 Grant is structured to help small ministries with limited staff time. For more information on the grant and application process visit www.abc-usa.org/matthew25/