This week the old pavilions at Old Fort Park were torn down. While they were old and decrepit, they made people happy by being the celebration site for thousands of birthday parties, picnics, family reunions, and most recently breakfasts. Breakfasts? You asked? Yes, over 300 Sunday breakfasts. The pavilions were the site of the Experience 5000 breakfasts begun as a homeless ministry by the newly planted Experience Church.
Shortly after the 5000 Breakfasts began, our Sunday School class began reading Shane Claiborne’s book “Irresistible Revolution,” a must-read for anyone who is called to be a radical Christian to serve the least of these as Jesus did. A friend had mentioned the Experience Church was serving breakfast and meeting in a small building near downtown, so we visited one Sunday night. At that time, there was a small group of people from many different socioeconomic backgrounds, as well some people who were very obviously down on their luck or homeless: the least of these.
While the service was nice and worshipful, but I got hung up on who was there. This was the first time I’d met someone face to face who was homeless. I was a little uncomfortable.
I went home and told Brad (my husband) about the breakfast program, and he went out and visited one morning later that summer. He discovered people out there had a few other needs that he thought our friends at Trinity could help with. It was deep into the middle of summer when he visited, and he saw people with scratches, bug bites, bumps, and bruises. Many of them had aches and pains, so Brad went through the Experience group leaders and started bringing little health kits each Sunday to give out. This grew into us providing tents and tarps for people who need them.
As the word got out, people came and helped with the kids–yes, kids are homeless and eat breakfast there, too. People brought coats in the winter and shoes, backpacks, and school supplies before school started. If you ever wanted to see the face of Christ, you could see it at the park on Sunday. I cannot explain how I felt after leaving there on Sunday morning! Sometimes my Girl Scouts would do fun things for the kids.
Hundreds of families attend the Experience Church, and it has grown by leaps and bounds! Church members now go to church in a large renovated warehouse, they have a thriving youth group, and lots of young children…The people at Experience Church do amazing things. Many of them come to the park to serve Sunday after Sunday.
The park program has grown to serve over 100 people most Sundays. So many lives have changed through this program.
A few months ago they were told that the city was going to tear down the pavilion where the breakfast has been held for over 6 years. It’s amazing how we may not always know what God’s plan is, but God knows, and we should have faith. This was no exception. The last breakfast at Old Fort Park was held at some picnic tables under the trees today, but there will be no delay in services, as next week breakfasts will continue on at Patterson Park. This will be an amazing leap of faith, as the need is great in this neighborhood, and new opportunities could truly grow the program. Stay tuned for Chapter 2. It really could be even more amazing than Chapter 1.