February 1, 1997 in Features

Warm Haven Street People Find Loving Refuge And A Hot Meal At The Word Ministry

Nina Culver Correspondent
 

The door opens again and a man walks in, looking for some hot soup to warm him on this chilly afternoon even though The Word Ministry is closed.

The place is like that - people ignoring the closed sign and walking inside in search of a little caring, a little something to eat and maybe a hug. They know they will not be turned away.

In the heart of downtown near the corner of Main and Browne, The Word Ministry has been serving the homeless population on and off since 1983.

Some might call it a soup kitchen, but it is more than that.

One obvious difference is a kitchen that looks like home. Books and coffee cups line the wall, and the countertop is covered with muffins and bread ready for the next day. Small tables, with flowers in the center of each, fill the remaining space.

A sheet of plywood hanging on a wall is covered with names, each providing a memory. Some of those people just passed through, while some still come in regularly for warmth to brighten their lives on the street. Others have died or were killed.

Director Christina Rosario says the center tries to give the people who walk through the doors more than just a meal. Many visitors are alcoholics or are trying to dry out. Staff members try to help them, encourage them to find work and occasionally help them find a job.

Plus, everyone receives a little serving of faith in God along with their meal.

“We try to bring hope into these people’s lives that are hopeless and broken,” says Rosario. “We try to make them feel like they’re part of a family.”

Once they understand that the center’s staff cares about what happens to them, they undergo a transformation, says Rosario. They start caring more about each other and about themselves.

“We love them - and that changes them,” she says.

The Word Ministry was founded in 1983 by Ray Cyrus, who began by simply handing out free coffee.

“No big reason,” Cyrus says about starting the ministry. “The guys just needed coffee and I had the time. God told me to, I guess.”

Helping the less fortunate runs in Cyrus’ family. His aunt worked in a mission and his mother worked with the homeless. Cyrus was raised in the downtown area and knew there was a need.

The center, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, is run entirely on donations. All food is either donated or purchased with donated money. All staff members volunteer their time, and more than 30 businesses regularly donate goods to the center.

The Word Ministry never runs out of food, says Rosario. Sometimes there are items waiting near the front door when she arrives for work.

Occasionally a helping hand belongs to someone who once frequented the center. Rosario tells of one such man who now has a well-paying, full-time job who donated a freezer to the center.

“That’s a victory story, isn’t it?” Rosario asks rhetorically.

Everyone is welcome, she says, and rarely is anyone asked to leave because of bad behavior.

“They’re very, very respectful,” she says of the clientele. “We set firm, sound boundaries. This is the House of God.”

Now the center is trying to expand but is running into problems. The center has purchased the building next door at Main and Browne and plans to turn it into the Cornerstone Impact Art Center, a place to present plays and musicals and have Christian singers perform. The goal, says Rosario, is to “reach the youth of our city with a message of hope.”

The major stumbling block is a leaky roof atop the new building. The contractor and electrician won’t begin their work until it’s fixed, and roofers can’t squeeze it into their schedules, crammed with the many damaged roofs caused by November’s ice storm.

The project is now five months behind schedule and no one is quite sure when it will finally be complete.

What’s called for these days is faith, which the staff of The Word Ministry seems to have in abundance.


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