MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Austin, Texas is known for barbeque and great music. But it’s becoming known for something else: a growing population of homeless people.
REICHARD: More and more tents are popping up on street corners, under bridges, and on walking trails. WORLD’s Caleb Bailey recently visited Austin and discovered one way local churches are meeting physical and spiritual needs on the streets.
CALEB BAILEY, REPORTER: If you happen to get caught in traffic on I-35 in Austin, Texas, on a Sunday morning, you may hear echoes of music. That’s not because you’re in the live music capital of the world.
Under that highway, a church gathers to worship.
Its members might not look like your typical church-goers. Instead of leatherbound Bibles in hand, many are holding cardboard signs. The shade of the bridge is just cool enough to keep the warm sun from driving away worshippers with heavy jackets and shopping carts.
This is Church Under the Bridge, a homeless ministry of Mission Possible Austin. Local churches join together to host this outdoor Sunday service every week. And anyone’s welcome to come, homeless or not.
JJ Plasencio is the city pastor at Austin Oaks Church.
PLASENCIO: The church always says, hey, we want to reach the city for Jesus. Every church will say that very common, but really what you're saying is they have to walk through your doors. So what does it really mean to actually reach the city for Jesus unless you go, right?
Mission Possible began 30 years ago with a weekly service, but today it’s much more.
PLASENCIO: So it has a lifeline pregnancy center, which is located at 12 and Chicago, which is their main campus, and then along there they have one of the most active, what’s called sober house. They’re for people who are suffering from addiction. So they do that as well. There's also a big food group there.
Every Sunday at the bridge between 7th and 8th street, a yellow truck with the Mission Possible logo pulls in at 9 a.m. and begins to set up an outdoor sanctuary. Chairs, a PA system, instruments, tables.
This Sunday, as men and women raise their arms under concrete pillars, the busy street traffic can’t drown out the chorus of “All Our Hope Is In Jesus.”
PLASENCIO: Music is the bridge -it bridges all barriers culturally, even, you know, demographically, and you know even in age so it translates just so much just. I mean music communicates emotion just like language communicates thought right?
At the back of the makeshift venue sits a table with food, coffee, clothes, and reading glasses. But board member Clay Davis says the volunteers are here to offer more than material support.
DAVIS: One of the things that we talk about is getting on the other side of the table. You can serve food and get coffee and clothes and all that's wonderful and people need that. But do that and then get on the other side of the table and just say, How are you doing? How can I pray for you? Tell me your story.
Consistency in this sort of ministry is important. The recurring meeting time helps foster those relationships.
DAVIS: A lot of churches, the people that come through the door and they're more likely to minister to them on a regular basis more likely to develop relationships versus just kind of, if they're just out on the street, just kind of casually meeting people. How am I going to see them again? So I think one of the really great things about church under the bridge is the fact that they're back every single week and be able to see the same people.
This Sunday, one 19-year old visitor is back for the second time.
HOMELESS MAN: Like I feel like this place welcomes me.. you know.. I don't feel like I'm judged here or anything like that.
He didn’t want to share his name … or talk about what drove him to homelessness at such a young age. But he carried burdens the service seemed to relieve.
HOMELESS MAN: I just want to encourage everybody to count their blessings. Count your blessings all the time.
Mike Featherstone is Mission Possible’s street ministry coordinator.
FEATHERSTONE: The whole concept is we're not trying to get anything from you. We're not asking you for anything.
Featherstone makes sure that every Sunday communicates a common theme.
FEATHERSTONE: We're just trying to give to you that gospel of grace. That's the whole purpose of being here.
He says pure and simple, the gospel is the priority.
FEATHERSTONE: Religion is man's attempt to get to God. I’ll say Christianity, is God getting to man. That's the whole concept of what we do. It's not by works. It's about what he did, not what you're gonna do.
Coffee, conversation, and clothing are all practical ways to point people to food and garments that won’t wear out over time.
FEATHERSTONE: You know, a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about the great banquet, the wedding banquet, and our job here as believers… it was the Great Commission it wasn't called to great suggestion…. Our job is to make sure people are clothed for that banquet. And the clothing that we wear, our wedding garments, is not some fancy clothing, our wedding garment is the blood of Jesus Christ.
Featherstone says the message preached under the bridge every Sunday applies to all churches, whether their members have homes or not.
FEATHERSTONE: In the midst of downtown Austin City that’s known for a lot of wild things in modern times keeping up with all this keeping up with all that there's only ever been two choices. The devil wants to make you think there's multiple choices. There’s not. There’s two. With God or without God, simple as that.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Caleb Bailey in Austin, Texas.
REICHARD: Caleb produced a video version of this story for World Watch. We’ve included a link to that in today’s transcript.
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