by Kathy Marson
Spokane, Wash., November 11, 2014 - On a brisk fall morning at Palisades Christian Academy, the upper grade students began their week helping other Adventist churches and organizations in Spokane to provide sack lunches for Spokane’s Community Court at the downtown library. Once the last cheese slice was in the bag, the students traveled downtown to sit in on some of the proceedings before they served the lunches.
Why are Adventists making meals for the Spokane, Wash. legal system? This past October and November, eight groups, including PCA, had the opportunity to provide lunches to people appearing before the Community Court for misdemeanors. Making lunches for those appearing in court helps offenders through a difficult time in life.
Adventists became involved with Spokane Community Court through the First Covenant Church in downtown, Spokane who has been providing the lunches each Monday. This fall however, they have not able to do this because their church is being remodeled.
Members of the First Covenant Church reached out to other churches in the community and asked for help during their construction project. Seventh-day Adventists were one of two groups that stepped forward. Six Adventist churches, two Pathfinder clubs, two schools and staff from the area Adventist church headquarters worked together to provide lunches for two months.
It became a city-wide effort where a large variety of Adventist entities worked together. ”This is the first big project we have pulled together,” said Rhonda Whitney, coordinator for urban ministries for the Adventist Church in the Inland Northwest.
Those involved included, Otis Orchards, Spokane Central, Spokane Slavic and Spokane Valley churches; Spangle and Spokane Valley Pathfinders; and Palisades Christian Academy and Countryside Adventist School. Positive Life Radio and a variety of individuals and churches helped to fund the lunches which cost about $200 each Monday for 70 lunches. The court values every lunch donated as a savings of $130 for an overnight stay in jail. Using this logic, the churches and schools donation of 560 lunches in October and November saved taxpayers roughly $72,800. Whitney says, "Not a bad contribution to the city of Spokane from the Adventist church!"
When the PCA students arrived at the library for court, they were introduced to the prosecuting attorney, Adam Pampini, and defense attorney, Francis Adewale. After a brief tour, the students filed into the courtroom.
Outside in the hallway lined with artwork, I asked the attorneys to share how this court started. Clearly friends, Adewale and Pampini told me they are both Christians and were part of a core group that began to pray for a way to rehabilitate people committing misdemeanors.
With tears in his eyes, Pampini recounted a series of miracles that transpired allowing the birth of Spokane’s Community Court. “We were looking for alternatives to help people stay out of jail,” said Pampini. “Many repeat offenders have no parents or role models and need, somehow, for the court system to parent them.” Spokane’s jail-alternative for misdemeanors is patterned after a program that first began in New York state.
This new unconventional court allows nonviolent offenders who commit misdemeanors an alternative. Instead of appearing before a judge at the courthouse with potential jail time, they can go to court at the library and comply with a sentence for community service.
In the courtroom, Judge Mary Logan thanked the PCA students for coming and bringing lunches and told them how helpful food is for those coming to this court. Many have not had breakfast and many are homeless. Lunch makes a difference in their ability to stay and go through the requirements of the court.
The students watched Judge Logan write, “It takes courage to lead a life” on a blackboard. The court then proceeded to graduate five individuals who had completed the requirements of the court. Most of them now had places to live and jobs.
Graduates are community court ambassadors. Their success gives credibility to this new system and is a win-win for the community. To each of the graduates, the judge gave a stone with a word written on it that signified a success in their life such as “courage” or “trust.”
One graduate said, “I’m grateful for this opportunity given to me. Through this court I learned to reach out to people.”
Another said, “I ain’t much of a people person. It took a while to get off alcohol, but if you...[can do it], then do it right and get it done.”
PCA student, Kenny Applewhaite, commented that this person stood out because he was so sincere and one could feel his emotional struggle through each word.
Shortly after noon, the students handed out lunches to all who had a red ticket. They returned to PCA and wrote about their experiences.
Dillon Peach enjoyed the graduation and said, “It was cool what the people did to help themselves graduate and make their lives better.”
“The people who ran community court are very good influences who treat everyone with respect,” said Lillibel Douglas. “This made a point to me that these people need help, because something in their lives caused them to go down this path. However, with caring and love they can get on the right track.”
Tobias Rebant summarized the experience, “I think that community court is a great way to improve our community and the lives of the people who didn’t have it as good as we do when they grew up or just made mistakes in their lives and now want to get back on track.”
Making and serving these lunches for those trying to get back on their feet is just one way Adventists are serving as Christ’s disciples in Spokane. Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when he said to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me.” And three times Peter said, “Yes.” But Jesus wanted him to promise to take care of his sheep, his people.
From whatever walk of life they’re in, all are His people. And all followers of Jesus are included in Jesus’ words to Peter. “Love one another just as I have loved you. … By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34-35.