By Rev. Jeff Jaynes
(Article originally appeared in Asbury’s Tidings Magazine)
She wasn’t the first in line but she was close. Patiently waiting in the lobby, she talked quietly with her son in the umbrella stroller at her feet. Any other day, someone coming to Asbury might guess she was one of the many young mothers dropping off children at preschool. Except it was not just any other day and she was not near the children’s area. It was the first day Restore Hope–South Tulsa was open in the Venue building, and she was there for some help.
This young mother was a perfect example of the people Restore Hope Ministries has helped for 38 years now. Restore Hope’s mission is to help families in financial crisis move to economic and spiritual vitality. Most often, the crises we see are like the one the young mother on that first day shared with our volunteer caseworker. Her husband works, she said, but his work is dependent on good weather. When the weather is good they are able to make it. Unfortunately, the weather in OK is not always so ideal. She would love to work herself but her son is just three years old–too young for school–and they cannot afford child care. Her husband’s average income (thanks to those good days) is too high for any child care subsidies. She didn’t need much. But she did need food to feed her family.
After only two days of serving, Restore Hope’s Asbury location has helped 35 families just like this young woman. To a person, these families have been patient as we have all learned how to live into our new space. To a person they have been exceedingly grateful for the help. I loved being there on the very first day to hear these families say thank you as they left. Many took special care to let me know how grateful they were. Most of them never thought they’d need to ask for help from a food pantry. All of them were glad we were there.
We are very glad to be there too. Years ago, when we were rebuilding our warehouse, we contemplated what our needs would be for our building on Charles Page Boulevard. We discussed options that might lead to expansion on that site at a later date. I was never comfortable with those ideas. Growing at that location did not seem to me to be the future we needed to pursue. A few years later, when our Board and staff entered into a time of strategic planning, we discussed those options again. This time, I was not the only one who was thinking beyond our current campus. In fact, the Board unanimously approved exploring satellite facilities–especially in local churches.
At the same time at Asbury, the Pastors and the Local Outreach team were getting to know the neighborhood around 6767 S. Mingo. And they did not have to look very far to see the needs. The Union School District was already deep into its own transition from a suburban wealthy district to ever growing poverty. With more than 60% of its students eligible for free or reduced lunches, Union began to explore how best to help their families–including the hiring of full-time staff members for the homeless children in their schools. Grove Elementary, just to the north of Asbury’s campus, was already deep into this transition–with nearly 90% of its students in poverty–becoming a “community school” to add wraparound care for their families. Many of those families live in the apartments to Asbury’s north, many of them riding the Tulsa Transit bus that loops through Asbury’s parking lot several times a day.
Asbury has a rich history of looking beyond its walls–often beyond national borders as well. Many Asburians (including me growing up) went across the globe on mission–to places like Estonia, Tanzania, Azerbaijan and more. Just take a walk around the building and you can see the impact those global missions have made. In fact, you can still see one of the frisbees our mission group took to Estonia in 1999–a trip that certainly changed my life as that’s when I met my wife! Asbury’s work has changed many lives around the world. And now Asbury was looking not just across oceans, but also across the street.
Meanwhile, Restore Hope was also looking at how (and, more importantly, who) we were serving. We even did a “heat map” of those who came to us for help over an entire year. Areas where more of our clients lived had big circles representing many families. Some places barely showed as a dot on the map. The North and West portions of Tulsa were covered in circles. South and East Tulsa had more of the little dots. It was clear where we needed to expand.
On this side of that decision–on this side of the amazing grand opening with balloons and fanfare–it is clear that we made the right choice. New volunteers who could not easily travel to our main campus are serving their neighbors in need. Space that once collected odds and ends now contains green beans, cereal, peanut butter and pineapple. Families that previously did not have time to make the hours-long bus ride to Charles Page Boulevard, can come down the block to get the food the need.
But we are not just sharing food at Restore Hope South Tulsa. We are sharing hope. The young mother who came in with her son did not just leave with some cans to put in her pantry. She left with the idea that tomorrow might be a better day. The young father who needed prayer had time to meet with a prayer worker–while his daughter rested in the arms of a volunteer who showed off his grandpa skills as well as helping with food. Those we serve are not “the poor.” They are the neighbors we are called to love, our brothers and sisters in Christ’s family who just need a little hand up…and a little hope. Thank you for your help in sharing that hope. I look forward to watching how our partnership will bless our neighbors and so many more!