Olive Knolls Church of the Nazarene in Bakersfield, California, is setting an example in the community with outreach efforts via its Hope Center, a place people in need can visit to receive clothing, food, and encouragement. The center also accepts referrals from other agencies to help supply basic home furnishings. But something more important than food and clothing is being distributed at Hope Center.
An official compassionate ministry center through the Church of the Nazarene, Hope Center not only deals with the physical needs but also with the spiritual needs of its clients. Personnel from the center interact with and pray for the clients. In turn, the guests share special needs with the staff.
The Hope Center stemmed from a prayer ministry already existing at the church called "HOPE—Houses of Prayer Everywhere." As church members visited in the homes of drug addicts, prostitutes, and others in need, they prayed for these people. The vision for the expanded center came about as Olive Knolls Church of the Nazarene worked with HOPE recipients.
As the church members assisted people in Bakersfield, they worked out of their church facility. One morning, Dennis Mitchell, the layperson directing the organization, received what he felt was a specific vision from the Lord regarding the need to create a separate operating facility for this growing ministry. He could picture exact details in his mind. Rather than taking ownership of this vision, Dennis recognized that he was part of a divine pipeline that could flow into a bigger plan. As he and others prayed about the growing concerns involved in touching these lives, doors opened to acquire a building in the heart of Oildale, just outside of Bakersfield, in an area overflowing with the hurting, poor, and destitute.
Now Dennis directs this vital ministry and works with other volunteers from the church and community in daily efforts to minister to thousands of people.
He estimates that 20,000 clients visited the center in 2004, although many of them gathered items for other family members, thus extending the estimated number of recipients to 30,000.
Dennis shares, "Somebody asked me how I can put in the hours that I do and never burn out. Well, when I see an individual come to the Lord, all Heaven rejoices and we rejoice. There can't be lifelong change until these people give their hearts to the Lord. Another thing that helps is when someone walks in the door and says, 'Do you remember me? I came here two years ago after having been beaten, with nowhere to go and no food. You prayed for me and cared for me. That changed my life.' Those people who overcome life's struggles give me joy and inspiration."
Members of the Olive Knolls congregation, under the leadership of Pastor Rob Songer, are known for their generous spirits. Their support of Hope Center corporately and individually is helping to impact this California community. But that's no surprise to Dennis, who is witnessing the fulfillment of his vision. He summarizes the Hope Center's purpose: "Seeing lives changed is the key to the whole thing."
Holiness Today, July/August 2005