Church’s street ministry connects with the homeless community
By Irene A. Harkleroad | Jul 9, 2021
Every Friday evening, the empty parking lot of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Phoenix comes alive. Kids and adults hold up “Jesus Loves You,” “Free Food” and “Honk for Jesus” signs on the corner of Van Buren and 20th Drive, inviting everyone to join the excitement.
There is fresh homemade pozole, snacks, cold drinks and music. But the night is about Jesus — how He feeds the body and the spirit. It’s about the prayer of the righteous for the souls of the lost.
Since September 2020, members of Centro Cristiano de Alabanza y Adoracion in Phoenix have come here to offer food, encouragement and prayer to the homeless. At first, they ministered on the sidewalk then moved to the parking lot with the priest’s permission.
A small group of families provides the food and organizes the events. They have a rhythm. They laugh, smile and pray over the people who come for comfort.
They pass bowls of soup to the lonely like they were feeding their own children. Some of those “children” stay for most of the evening, resting in that love as the prayers continue for them and the others who join them. Some come back week after week.
Early on, curious neighbors began checking out the activity on the corner and have recently begun donating money toward refreshments for the following weeks. Drivers occasionally pull over and contribute to the cause.
Though most of the people who come to this place for help do not speak Spanish and many of those praying do not speak English, the power of prayer is obvious. Faces soften. Sad eyes brighten. The Holy Spirit moves. And the darkness is pushed back for an evening.
“We’ve been doing this in different places for a long, long time,” says Pastor Enrique Borja. “We went to the homeless on Grant, Lincoln and Jackson streets.”
Before the political climate changed for Latinos in the early 2000s, people from the church were ministering to between 200 and 300 homeless people a week.
“We even baptized a few in the streets,” Borja says. “Since the change, Hispanic people stopped coming for this service. Today, most of the people on the streets speak English, even the Hispanic people.”
In addition to Friday evenings at St. Matthew Catholic Church, these same volunteers from the church distribute hundreds of food boxes donated by Shamrock Foods.
Borja is encouraging his congregation to create a second group to relieve some of the suffering of the growing homeless population in the area between 7th Avenue and I-17.
“There are a lot of people sleeping behind the freeway,” he says. “We want to go to those places. We can do a little more. I hope we can do better.”
Irene A. Harkleroad, a freelance writer living in Carefree, is a member of Black Mountain Baptist Church, Cave Creek.
—Pray that God will open a door for ministry through your church.
—Speak to your pastor or other church leaders about known needs in your community.
—Gather with another person or group to pray together and exchange ideas for ministry. They could be as simple as delivering a meal; providing diapers, formula or clothes for a new baby; picking up a prescription for a shut-in or helping an older adult with yard maintenance.