Visitors to Holy Ground Homeless Shelter get more than a meal and a bed. Church at Holy Ground lets them put their worries aside and pause for prayer.
By EBONY WINDOM, Times Staff Writer
Published January 15, 2005
HUDSON - At the Church at Holy Ground, the faces in the pews change more than at most churches.
The Rev. Bob Brown doesn't even get a chance to learn names.
That's because the church is part of Holy Ground Homeless Shelter. Dozens drop in each week in search of a bed and a bite to eat.
Most visitors are unemployed and struggling with finances. Others are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Some have mental disabilities.
But on Sunday, folks put their worries aside and pause for worship, said Brown.
"They've been judged," said Brown, 68, who leads weekly worship services. "Family has judged them. Society has judged them. They've had all the negativity they can stand. . . . I don't attack alcoholism or drug addiction. But, I show them that Christ is the way out of that. I point the way to where there is hope."
Lisa Barabas Henry opened the shelter 13 years ago. She was a single mom of three with no place to go. She scraped up enough money to rent out a room on a corner lot on U.S. 19 in Hudson. But rather than just get a place for herself, Henry worked out a deal with the landlord to rent three small buildings. She set out to help others who were down on their luck.
"I had a spiritual awakening," said Henry, who still lives in a modest mobile home on the site. "It was the Lord (who) inspired me."
Thus the name Holy Ground. Henry, 45, stumbled upon the biblical story of Moses and the burning bush.
"God said take off your shoes; you're on holy ground," said Brown, referring to Scripture.
"Jesus said you should feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. I believe that's exactly what's going on here," he said.
So far, Henry believes the shelter has lived up to its name.
Over the years, Holy Ground has expanded. But, it's no palace. Just a cluster of 11 tiny apartments and mobile homes. They offer a "hand up, not a hand out." And on-site Alcoholics Anonymous and support group meetings and anger management classes. Folks are encouraged to find work in order to help themselves.
Holy Ground has served more than 35,000 people - without a dime of government money, Brown said. The shelter thrives on donations alone.
And miracles happen there, Brown said.
Like the time they were short on rent. They gathered in the yard for prayer. Then a man rode up on a bicycle and handed over a check for the exact amount due.
Then there was the time donations were low, and the shelter ran out of food. The group prayed, then a truck pulled up with hot, gourmet food left over from a banquet. It saved the day.
The ministry sets out to save souls, too.
Over the years, dozens have answered the call for salvation.
"Salvation is for whosoever will," Brown said.
Visitors who bunk at Holy Ground also are encouraged to worship there. Brown leads nondenominational services. Numbers fluctuate from week to week. On chilly nights, folks pour in in search of a warm cot.
Then, on Sunday, the chapel is packed.
Worshipers meet in a double-wide mobile home decked out with rows of blue pews, high-tech sound equipment and a podium. All donated.
Men and women sway and clap to upbeat Christian tunes. And take in an uplifting message.
The church is a melting pot of various faiths. "We've had atheists, Satanists, Hindus and Muslims worship here," Brown said. "When I preach, I describe the God that I worship. I do it in a way that's nonjudgmental. They appreciate it. I'm not saying, "My God is better than your God.' "
The group leans on Brown for spiritual support, too.
He's a retired blue-collar worker turned minister. He was ordained at Gulfview Grace Brethren Church in Hudson. Although Brown has never been homeless, he insists he's not a rich man either. He earns nothing for the 28 hours a week he spends at Holy Ground. Serving God is reward enough, Brown says.
During worship, the group passes around a collection plate. Church leaders never expect to gather much money.
But it helps teach a lesson.
"It's important for them to become a contributing part of it," Brown said. "That way they're not sitting there with their hand out."
All of the money goes right back into the ministry. Sunday, worshipers collected money to help one man pay his medical bills.
It's all about helping one another.
One time, a man saw Brown in a grocery store. He was a former Holy Ground resident. The man ran up and bear-hugged Brown. He boasted that he had changed his life for the better.
"With great pride, he pointed out to the parking lot," Brown said. "He said, "You see that plumber's truck out there with my name on it? It's mine. I'm licensed and insured.' "