Pastor’s Column: Serving the Poor, Ministering in Mobile Home Parks
Helping the Least of These
Bear Creek Christian Church in Rochester, MN was started with a vision to serve the materially poor, as well as those lacking relationships and connections to others – what the Scripture calls “the least of these.” The goal for our church is to focus not only on the spiritual, but also on the physical and practical needs of our church and community as a whole. We believe that the gospel is meant to affect our souls, our relationships, and even our economic well-being. If we find ourselves with the resources and people to meet real-world needs, we believe that needs to be done.
Outreach at Local Mobile Home Parks
When Bear Creek was first started, we were praying and looking around the Rochester area for the greatest needs in the community. It didn’t take long to see that there was not only a lack of affordable housing, but also hundreds of homes that were in severe disrepair. However, because of the great demand for affordable housing, people are willing to live just about anywhere they are allowed. This meant that many families were residing in homes that had leaking roofs, broken windows, and often a lot of mold.
Over the past 5-6 years we have focused a fair bit of energy on repairing homes, in partnership with the homeowners. Sometimes these have been traditional, stick-built homes (non-mobile homes), foreclosed houses, and lots and lots of mobile homes. Often non-profits, county workers, and other community outreach workers put us in touch with families who are lacking the resources to adequately repair their homes. After assessing the family’s ability to contribute financially, we make a plan to repair their homes – if they are “fixable.” Some homes are in such bad shape that our plan includes replacing a home, or relocating a family into a different home in the community.
When we repair a home, we ask the family to volunteer, as well as their friends, along with community volunteers from other churches, non-profits, and businesses. We also ask the family to contribute to the project financially, even if it means a no-interest payment plan of $50 or $100/month to cover some or all of the expenses incurred. Remodeling costs are kept affordable through mostly donated labor, and some donated materials from a big box store and community individuals. We also gather donations for projects that need subsidizing, cases where the income of the family is just not adequate to pay for much of the remodel.
Helping Low-Income Families Keep Quality Homes
In a lot of ways, we have copied some of Habitat for Humanity’s best practices, but instead of building new homes, we have focused on the low, entry-level housing challenges. Most families we serve don’t have adequate incomes to qualify for Habitat homes. The Mayo Clinic provides thousands of steady, well-paying jobs for our community. With every one of these great jobs, there are a number of other “support” or ancillary positions needed in the community. Cooks, hotel room staff, factory positions, commercial laundry facilities, and more are needed to help a town like Rochester run well. Bear Creek has focused their energy on helping those who are in more entry-level, or lower wage jobs attain and maintain adequate housing.
Our focus has been primarily on longer-term residents in the Rochester area. However, there are times when a family relocates to Rochester due to a health concern and then make the transition from “visitor” to “resident.” If these families have little to no support in the area, or significant barriers to jobs or housing, we may end up trying to help them at some point.
Hopes for the Future
As more projects are completed, more requests for assistance pour in. Our hope is to spin off a non-profit this year that can become the umbrella organization, which will oversee these efforts. While the needs of the community can be overwhelming at times, it is also great to see the outpouring of God’s love to those most in need in our neighborhoods.
Jeff Urban is the Outreach Pastor at Bear Creek Christian Church in Rochester, MN.
Here’s a link to a recent news article on Bear Creek Christian Church’s outreach efforts: Housing Response Has Many Pieces