This is an update from the campus ministry team recently. Our time/partnership/etc. in this area of our city continues to have ripple effects.
One Saturday a month, Cheri pulls into an empty lot, her trunk filled with stuffed animals she’s collected.
She’s here with other volunteers from local churches to hand out free tamales and pray for people. And she’s discovered that stuffed animals are as much in demand as the locally made tamales.
As people walk past their folding table, set up along the sidewalk, they offer the free food to everyone.
“No strings attached,” they explain. “Totally free. Are there any ways we can pray for you?”
Most nod yes. Yes, they say, yes you can. For a husband’s court date. For an SSI check to come through. For a home, they say. Some break into a huge smile as the volunteers pray with them. Others start to sob.
Cheri knows many of them by sight, and some by name. One young family has just “graduated” from a shelter into their own apartment. She warmly greets them, asking how they are doing. Good, but the wife needs to find a job, she says. They bow their heads and pray for God’s provision.
Started over a year ago by As Is Church of Rockwood, the monthly prayer and tamale giveaway has spread through a confederation of churches, known collectively as the Shalom Rockwood Network.
These churches are dedicated to seeing God transform this Gresham, Ore., neighborhood, and have come together as the body of Christ to shine His light, hope, and love into the darkest corners. And it is these churches who are following up on the people our students met during Rockwood Knocks – the Cru Winter Conference /// Portland outreach event.
“When all those young people come into Rockwood – that’s like when the National Guard shows up,” said Dave Pauli, the pastor of Freedom Foursquare Church. “What that brought was partnerships that were beyond our own neighborhood. People here are in the battle day in and day out, and then you get this reinforcement – that takes it to the next level.”
Having 400 students flood their neighborhood, knock on doors, meet people, and invite them to local churches, has been a catalyst in bringing the Shalom Rockwood Network closer together, he said. As the churches have sponsored events and held outreaches like the tamale giveaway, they’ve seen God soften hearts.
Tim, a member of As Is church and a volunteer with the tamale giveaway this morning, remembers how a year ago, people would turn down his offer of prayer.
“It seems like now, people look forward to the once-a-month that we show up here,” Tim says. “You can see people walking with this blank look on their face, and then after they stop and chat with us, they get a feeling of hope.”
Cheri, a member of Freedom Foursquare Church, started volunteering with the tamale giveaway a few months ago. Her first time, she brought three giant bags of unwanted stuffed animals to hand out with the tamales, unsure if anyone would want them.
“It’s not just the kids,” Cheri says. “It’s teenage boys and men who want them.”
The women living in a nearby women’s shelter are especially excited to choose one, she’s learned.
“When the ladies come over – when you offer them stuffed animals, that’s big,” Cheri says. “It gives them something to hug at night. They went and told others, and they all started coming.”
Now, Cheri brings as many as she can find each month.
Out of the hundreds of people she’s prayed with, a few stand out. One day, two men approached their table. “Gang members,” she thought, seeing their tough looks, sagging outfits, and stoned expressions.
“Would you guys like a free tamale?” She asked. As she handed out the food, she asked if they’d like a stuffed animal as well. To her surprise, they each took one – for his younger sister, one said.
“Do you guys need prayer?”
“Yeah,” one answered. “For safety. I’d really like a safe place to lay my head.”
She took their hands, bowed her head, and began to pray. When she finished, tears were running down one man’s cheeks.