Olivet Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla., was praised by city, state, and Baptist officials for staying and working in its community as the ninety-one-year-old church dedicated a four-plex facility for homeless women and children. The home, located at N.W. 9th and Ellison, in a once affluent, but now deteriorating part of Oklahoma City, is the fourth house opened for the homeless by Olivet.
The latest addition to Olivet's growing number of homes, is named for pastor Steve Kern's mother, Millie Bradley, who died in February. Bradley became a homeless mother with five children, when Kern was six months old and his oldest sister was eight, as the family was abandoned by Kern's father. Bradley later remarried, and the children were raised by their stepfather. Kern said with the addition of the four-plex, Olivet can now serve six homeless mothers and their children.
Over the past four years, 120 homeless mothers and children have been served in Olivet's houses. Kern said the aging church is trying to fulfill the mission of Jesus with a practical application of the gospel. In one month's time, Olivet members, many who are older and on fixed incomes, gave $33,000 to begin the homeless ministry.
The Bradley complex was purchased for $15,000 with the help of the Kirkpatrick Foundation. Women and children may live in Olivet's housing at no cost to them. The church offers several programs to get them on their feet and on their own. Any money they make when they get a job is put into an escrow fund to help them get their own place to live. Howard Hendrick, executive director of the Department of Human Services, said while his department is doing some good things to help people in need, at the end of the day, when his folks leave their jobs, there are still people who need mentoring, who need to know that someone cares.
"The hope that comes from living in this kind of environment is incredible," Hendrick said. "I commend you for what you are doing in this ZIP code." Hendrick added that he envisions some more Steve Kerns coming from this type of project. Debbie Blackburn, District 88 state representative, told the crowd gathered in the complex's courtyard, that she sees a lot of people professing Christianity who "pray in the street," but Steve Kern goes about doing good work for his fellow man. "He's a quiet Christian who acts out his religion," Blackburn said. "Thank you for what you've done in this neighborhood."
Ann Simank, Oklahoma City councilwoman for Ward 6, said Olivet is making a dream come true in the neighborhood. She said when a shelter for the homeless in Oklahoma City was shut down, Olivet offered its gym as a temporary shelter for protection and a safe haven. "It is amazing we have this kind of leadership in the faith-based community," Simank said. "Olivet is setting a great example for other churches. We as government cannot do it alone. We need to work together."
Simank added that the Olivet housing project is much needed because the rate of women and children becoming homeless is growing. "It's no longer just homeless men living in cardboard boxes under bridges," she said.
Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma executive director Anthony Jordan said the desire of his heart is that churches will become more involved in meeting needs. "Olivet is living out the gospel in the finest of ways," Jordan said. "I am thankful a man came to Olivet to be shepherd of the community." Jordan noted that every great effort has someone with a vision who is willing to lay down his life to accomplish the task. "This church is meeting the needs of a harassed and downtrodden community," Jordan said. "Many times when churches see this, they move to the suburbs where ministry is easier. But Olivet has said 'we are here to meet needs and will not leave this community because it is worth investing in.' As a leader of Baptists, I could not be more proud of any church anywhere." Responding to Jordan's remarks, Kern admitted that he and his wife, Sally, actually wanted to go to "that big suburban church, but God broke our hearts to see the needs and opportunities in this community."
Dana Williamson is associate editor of the Baptist Messenger.