Breaking barriers for homeless ministry

When the pastor of his church offered him the chance to work with the church’s homeless ministry, it wasn’t necessarily the opportunity Akin* was looking for. Still, “I accepted because obedience is important,” Akin said.

Through his time interacting with and serving people on the streets, Akin slowly understood that homeless ministry was “God’s ministry.”

Years later, he also realised his initial experience with homeless ministry in his home country had been preparation.

Twelve years ago, Akin and his wife moved to a remote city in Central Asia as long-term workers with OM. They have dabbled in different ministries, including serving at an orphanage and teaching sports. Five years ago, Akin began reaching out to the homeless people he saw on the street.

It started with a project, he explained. A few homeless people he had met told him they wanted to change their lifestyle, so Akin took them to a rehab centre. In the end, “they didn’t change their lifestyle, but we had a good relationship through our project,” he said.

That relationship was important. Because of harassment from police and discrimination—taxi drivers often refuse rides to homeless people; hospitals, too, turn them away—“they’re scared to meet other people,” Akin explained.

“In Central Asia, homeless people are often trafficked,” another OM worker involved in homeless ministry said.

But showing up week after week, learning their names, praying for them and sharing the gospel have broken down barriers, workers have experienced. Today, Akin, along with volunteers from a local church, provide a meal every Saturday for homeless people in the city. They serve bread, tea and a traditional Russian dish to around 15 homeless people (not always the same people show up).

“When I read from the Gospel, they like to listen,” Akin said. “Some people wanted to go to church.” When the first homeless people showed up to a summer service, though, the regular congregants were offended by their smell. That group of homeless people didn’t return to church, Akin noted.

Last year, however, one homeless man repeatedly told Akin he wanted to change his lifestyle. Akin sent him to a local church that facilitated a rehab centre. After three months, the man left the centre and enrolled in a Bible course. “He wants to do ministry for homeless [people],” Akin said.

Since the church joined the feeding programme, “they also know this is God’s ministry,” Akin said. “Every month we get together for a prayer time.”

The next step, he indicated, was starting a centre for the homeless people. “My plan, maybe this year, [is to] buy a little place,” he said. When homeless people want to change their lifestyle, the process takes time. Akin hopes to offer those people a place to stay, counselling and, especially during winter, shelter from the elements.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.

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