by Darin Patzer
SPOKANE, Wash., December 2, 2015 - “We love haystacks!” Is a common strain heard at Crosswalk youth shelter in Spokane, the first Tuesday of every month.
For the past 25 consecutive years staff members of the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) office have been sharing Christ’s love by taking a monthly haystack meal downtown to serve the roughly 20 street youth and their adult mentors at the shelter.
Crosswalk is a ministry of the non-profit organization, Volunteers of America, and serves the purpose of mentoring teens who have fallen through the cracks - many of whom live on the streets - either because of abuse at home, or after dropping out of school. Crosswalk provides education towards obtaining a GED, life-coaching, as well as providing an overnight drop-in shelter.
Asked about why this meal service is important, Ken Jernberg, Crosswalk head teacher for the past 30 years says, “When I first started here, the kids would have to leave the shelter to find food then come back for their afternoon education tutoring and other services. But with all of these churches helping provide meals, the kid’s days no longer have to be interrupted.”
John Robertson, Crosswalk program manager, added with an encouraging smile, “Nutritious meals are an important staple of need for our kids. And we love haystacks!”
Over the years the monthly UCC outreach has passed from department to department, but has continued without interruption. Staff of KEEH, the Positive Life Radio station in Spokane, were even allowed to host a weekly youth group for over a year, with 5-7 regularly-attending kids, who played games, answered trivia questions for prizes, and watched the Matthew Videos, a series of DVD s about Jesus. GLOW tracts are also shared as part of the regular monthly outreach.
While the teens language can be coarse and the kids often appear rough on the exterior, once the team members relax over time they realize that most of these kids are just hungering for encouragement, kindness and a chance to experience healthy relationships.
One highlight of the outreach experience was that a young adult volunteer of the shelter started coming back to church due to the friendship he and his wife made with the radio station staff. Sadly, a few months later he passed away, but the team will always gratefully ponder what part they were able to play in Jesus bringing this man back to the “fold,” shortly before his untimely death. Sometimes the best way to be used by God is just showing up and being available.
Tiffany Neil, the current team meal coordinator, shared her thoughts on why she keeps the outreach going: “I can’t imagine some of the circumstances these kids have been through, but I am happy there is a program they can choose to participate in and empower themselves. The monthly Crosswalk meal we prepare is helping provide the stability these individuals need to thrive.”
St. Francis of Assisi would be proud, “Preach the gospel, when necessary use words.”