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The Cost of Obedience

There's a national news story happening in a neighboring town. A local pastor, Chris Avell, is learning first-hand the cost of obedience to Christ. He has been criminally charged (18 counts) for keeping his church open 24/7 to help the homeless. (I know Pastor Chris because we're both on the board of the homeless shelter that operates right next door to his church.)


The homeless shelter turns away approximately 600 people a year due to a lack of space, so Pastor Chris felt God saying his church could help with the overflow. For months, the local police and hospital regularly brought people to the church who needed assistance. The church did what they could to help - providing laundry facilities, showers, warm drinks, food, and shelter. Then, the city decided they had to put the people out. They nit-picked them about fire code violations, which the church fixed. Then, the city came back and said they had to fix things differently than they'd been told the first time.


I've been watching this story unfold and listening to what local people have to say about it. I heard some wild rumors and didn't know what to think. Expecting to see crime, filth, and chaos (and feel unsafe), I stopped by the church and talked to the folks who are staying there. When I entered, two people greeted me warmly. I explained that I'd heard what was going on in the church and just wanted to see it for myself. A cheerful woman in a wheelchair offered to show me around.


What I found is a clean, peaceful, orderly atmosphere. It doesn't look like a traditional church, but from what I understand, that's the point. It's meant to be a space that's accessible to people who don't feel comfortable around stained glass and pews. Dad's Place is reaching the unchurched, not trying to draw members from other churches. There were around 10 people inside, resting quietly. I spoke to nearly all of them, and they all appeared sober and respectful. I saw a kitchen, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, and an out-of-the-way area where people can store their things.


I spoke with a couple who currently stay there and work as their janitors. They explained some of the rules to me, like keeping their things picked up. They said their car broke down as they were passing through town, and they couldn't afford to get it fixed. They camped out on the lawns of six local churches and no one offered to help them. One church had the police remove them.


On a rainy night, Pastor Chris found them drenched, in a sandwich shop near the church, and invited them in to dry off and rest. The next day he met with them and helped them make a plan for what to do next. They became Christians and have started a cleaning business.


The woman in the wheelchair told me she feels safer staying at the church than she did living alone in a locked apartment. The men staying there protect her, and they are like family. We've had extremely cold, windy, miserable weather recently, so people sometimes come in to warm up for a few hours, sometimes they stay a night or two, and then there are a few who have stayed longer. She said people are becoming Christians and lives are being transformed. Miracles happen daily!


I didn't explicitly ask about the rumors. I didn't have to. She offered an explanation. There's no model for what they're doing there, so they're figuring it out as they go along. Sometimes it's messy, but they're learning from their mistakes and making note of what works and what doesn't. They hope they can be an example to the church at large for how to do this type of ministry, but they're not experts - yet. This project wasn't put before a planning committee and voted on. It wasn't funded and prettied up before they got started. It happened as Pastor Chris saw a need, as he tried to do ministry after the model of the New Testament church. And just like Jesus did, he's stirring things up.


When I remember my visit there, I see an image of Jesus overlaid on the entire place.


Pastor Chris could go to jail for up to 15 years, plus be charged $30,000 in fines. Talk about the cost of obedience to Christ! He feels compelled by God to keep the doors open, so he has lawyers defending him and a GoFundMe account to help offset the costs.


I'm writing about this today because I want you to consider what it means to do the will of the Lord. Sometimes, it means standing up for what's right, even when you stand alone. Sometimes, it means people in your community will spread wild rumors about you. You may be misunderstood, lied about, and mocked. Mistakes you make while you're still figuring things out could be held up as proof that you're not on the right track. Your personal finances could be impacted. And in Pastor Chris' case, your criminal record!


BUT... When you are obedient to do what God has called you to do, God takes care of the cost. At this point, the GoFundMe account has raised over $30,000 for the church. I heard recently that a large church in Atlanta is taking care of the legal fees. The national news has picked up the story, and if you read the comments under all the different stories, you will be amazed. Over and over it says things like, "I'm not a Christian because I've never heard of a church like this one. I'm going to donate to his fund and if I were local, I'd go to his church!"


Pastor Chris is making an impact on the entire nation, and all he wants to do is be the church God has called us to be. He's counted the cost of obedience, and he's said the lives transformed into the image of Christ are worth it.


I spoke with him this morning (1/26/24) to confirm the story I'm sharing today. He doesn't know yet what the outcome of the criminal charges will be. There's been such a national outcry against the city that I wonder if they'll continue to prosecute him. His excellent lawyers have sued the city for violating federal laws that protect churches from this kind of discrimination, putting a restraining order on them so they can't shut the church down until the case has been decided.


When I spoke with my husband about the situation, he suggested all the churches in the area stand in solidarity with Dad's Place by keeping their doors open 24/7 for 7 days. What is the city going to do? Bring criminal charges against ALL the pastors? That would surely make national news. The headlines would read: Ohio City Criminally Charges Pastor for Staying Open 24/7. Local Churches Unite to Support Him.


What if every church in Ohio said they were going to do the same thing? What if every church in the nation decided to keep their doors open 24/7 for a week to make this point: The government isn't going to stop them from serving the Lord in whatever capacity He calls them to serve. I've worked in very nice, large churches and I can tell you exactly what they think as they read these words. They don't want homeless people messing up their beautiful facilities, they can't afford the security it would require, and it would be a nightmare with their insurance.


But what if the churches in our country woke up, stirred the sleeping giant within, and decided to embrace the messiness of following hard after Christ? What if they called upon their members to volunteer to work in shifts to host those who enter the building? What if they designated an area, set up a big bowl of warm soup and coffee (we know our churches have coffee), and watched to see what the Lord would do? My church in Nashville did homeless ministry well, so I know it can be done.


What are we waiting for?


Love, Kimberly

The photos below are of Pastor Chris Avell in front of a wall of photos of some of the people the church has helped, and the outside of the church's simple building where people are learning what it's like to walk into the open arms of Jesus.

Click the photo above for a link to Dad's Place's Facebook page and listen to their latest sermon.

For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me with help and ministering care, I was in prison and you came to see Me.


Then the just and upright will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry and gave You food, or thirsty and gave You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcomed and entertained You, or naked and clothed You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit You?


And the King will reply to them, Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least [in the estimation of men] of these My brethren, you did it for Me.


-Matthew 25:35-40

If you need some encouragement that God is still doing miracles today, check out my book, Looking Up When Life Looks Down. It's a story of hope in the middle of crisis, supernatural physical healing, and learning to walk with a limp.


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