During a canvassing of the neighborhood several years ago as part of a refocus effort, members of El Cajon Wesleyan Church (ECW) in southern California noticed something — the number of homeless on city streets was increasing and becoming a major concern in the neighborhood. Where there is a need, there is a ministry opportunity.
Those at ECW wanted to reach outside the church walls. ECW had attracted the community through usual promotions — events on the property, helicopter egg drop at Easter, social media promotion, word of mouth and friend days. But it was looking to connect with the community through involvement off the church property. In order to address the homelessness mentioned above and beyond providing food or temporary housing, volunteers went into the community to listen first-hand to the needs in order to provide more permanent solutions.
Enter John Simon, lay leader, semi-retired fireman, ministerial student, with connections and a heart for the disenfranchised. In addition to meeting spiritual needs, Simon and a team of volunteers he leads have worked with the City of El Cajon Police Department and the East County Homeless Task Force toward the goal of moving people off the street and into housing.
In the last several months, this ministry has assisted in placing nearly 50 people in rent-to-own housing/trailers, mostly near the neighboring community of Julian. Tickets for minor offenses have been cleared with the courts. Recipients have been offered food, medical resources, legal assistance and, most importantly, prayer and a relationship with Christ.
Here are just a few individuals who’ve experienced a newfound hope because of the work this team is doing:
- Tanya* was placed into housing just days before her baby was born.
- Sheila* was baptized at ECW one Sunday morning.
- Pamela’s* back pain was healed during a laying on of hands and prayer on a Saturday morning at a park.
- Fred* was led to Christ during conversations at a park.
- Steve* entered a Christian recovery program.
ECW held a small Easter service in a park where two individuals accepted Christ. Others have begun attending the church as a result of the outreach. People often just want a listening ear and rarely does someone refuse an offer of prayer.
“Homeless ministry is more than a seasonal gesture of good will,” said Dr. Stephen Forsyth, senior pastor of El Cajon Wesleyan Church. “It is seeing each person through the eyes of Christ and then treating each person as you would Christ as in Matthew 25:40 — ‘whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
ECW wants to offer hope by helping people deal with common issues and by offering them hope in Jesus. By helping place people into permanent housing, city officials have granted favor. Talks with officials are underway concerning joint housing efforts and other ways El Cajon and ECW can work together. ECW is also looking to partner with the San Diego courts to help the homeless deal with legal issues.
It is the El Cajon team’s hope that others might be inspired to do more than meet basic daily needs (although important) and look for ways to work with communities to offer more permanent solutions while continuing the most important work of spiritual nourishment.
* Names have been changed.
Connie Rollins is social media director for El Cajon Wesleyan Church.