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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Samaritan’s jou rney

Christ Kitchen founder’s book explores true stories of women’s struggles, fellowship

Jan Martinez, founder of Christ Kitchen, has recently published “Christ Kitchen: Loving Women out of Poverty.” (Jesse Tinsley)

The Samaritan woman in the New Testament story was tough. Married five times, living with a man who wasn’t her husband, she wasn’t afraid of Jesus, the man who spoke with her at the well in a kind but honest manner.

Jan Martinez – founder of Christ Kitchen in Spokane, a place where women in poverty earn money, dignity and respect – loves the Samaritan woman.

And so, in her just-published book, “Christ Kitchen: Loving Women out of Poverty,” the Samaritan woman is a main character, her story fictionalized at the beginning of each chapter.

The chapters themselves are nonfiction made up of the real stories of the women who work at the kitchen and the story of Martinez’s own journey from a privileged childhood to a personal tragedy that ultimately led to her founding Christ Kitchen.

“The Samaritan woman reminds me so much of the women at the kitchen,” Martinez said. “They’re tough and funny and street smart and bright, and they are also clouded in guilt and suspicion. The way the Samaritan woman interacts with Jesus, I could see our women doing the exact same thing.”

Thursday, Martinez will discuss her book at Auntie’s Bookstore. Martinez hopes her book will:

• Clearly explain how Christ Kitchen works.

When Martinez was 26 – a confident woman with a master’s degree in public health – she was raped at knifepoint. “After that night … I was terrified to live,” she writes in her book.

During her recovery, she read the Bible cover to cover and unearthed her calling to forge relationships with women in poverty. Christ Kitchen was the eventual result. It opened in 1998 and eventually moved from the West Central neighborhood to its current location on North Monroe Street.

Women there make a line of gourmet food mixes, study the Bible and share conversations.

“The incentive to walk in the door is cash – three-and-a-half hours of work at minimum wage, paid at the end of the day,” Martinez explains in her book. “Some women come to earn enough to pay off a bill, make rent money, or buy diapers. Many are on disability or government assistance of some kind and can’t make ends meet. One woman, whose boyfriend broke her back with his foot, came because she could alternate sitting or standing at various jobs throughout the day. Many women echo the sentiment of one of the women who has worked there, ‘I came for the money, but now I stay for the fellowship.’ ”

• Reveal why poverty is like a foreign country for those not in it.

The biggest misconception about women in poverty?

“That (they’re) lazy,” Martinez said. “These are the most unlazy people I have met. They’ve devised strategies how to survive. A lot of our gals are living on $435 a month. And they have kids. That takes a lot of work and discipline to live on that.”

Volunteers are often taken aback at how honest the women are, but “I find the honesty endearing,” said Martinez, who is 59 and married to Spokane doctor Felix Martinez; the couple have two grown children.

Martinez doesn’t gloss over the struggles to be in relationship with women whose lives are marked by tragedy and chaos.

“Even when they are working hard, terrible things walk into their lives in terrible ways,” she said. “We rip our hair at times and then we pray through it and you can see God’s miracles.”

• Inspire other women to start projects like Christ Kitchen in their communities.

There are only four other projects inspired by Christ Kitchen now in existence in other cities.

“My prayer is really that people will read it and say if she can do it, I can do it,” Martinez said. “It will make it easier for the women in the pew to say ‘I should do this and here are some steps how.’ ”