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Students share City Gate's ministry of relationships, healing

By Louisa Barber

 A smile and a nod from some of the men, women and children chatting at tables in the dining room of City Gate express welcome as a stranger enters the ministry at 170 S. Madison to join them for a macaroni-and-cheese lunch.

City Gate is an outreach facility helping people who want to improve their lives. 

In downtown Spokane, City Gate staff and volunteers work to accomplish its vision of “reclaiming, rebuilding and restoring lost and broken lives.”

In biblical times, a city gate was where people gathered for the public market and other business.It was the place for interaction in the city. 

Supported by 45 churches, six staff and several hundred volunteers offer services that include a drop-in center, where people eat meals and snacks; clothing and food banks, where people can choose what they want and how much they want, and a clean and sober housing unit, where people can build a good rental history, so they can move into an apartment on their own.

“We are a ministry of relationships,” explained Dennis O’Brien, the housing program overseer.  “We believe that God is a God of relationships.  Not only does God want to have a relationship with each one of us, but it’s through the relationships that we have with others, that we share God.”

Dennis, the “go-to” man, continued his comments about relationships with the people they serve. 

As a 16-year veteran of City Gate, he is known on the streets.  It was evident by how many times clients stopped him during a tour of the building.  They exchanged greetings and small talk.

“When you know that you’re doing what God has called you to do and when he uses you, there is no greater joy,” Dennis said. 

Although he is disappointed when people continue to make choices that hurt them, he knows some people were not taught right from wrong.  In fact, some were taught to do wrong rather than right. 

For example, he knows one child whose father taught him how to steal cartons of cigarettes from gas stations.  The father would sell the cigarettes to get money for heroin. 

 “To me, they’re like mychildren,” he said.  “I don’t have any children, but I have hundreds of street kids, people out there on the streets that I really care about and love.  I want to see them make better choices.” 

He knows that all he can do is continue to encourage them. 

A large wooden crucifix at one end of the room on a stage next to a keyboard sets the Christian context for the outreach.  A purple-and-gold cloth drapes across its arms.  Colorful banners hanging on the walls also offering words of encouragement through Scriptures. 

Chi Alpha pastor Bob Elfers, who coordinates recruiting students from Eastern Washington University to go there to volunteer, said it’s “one of many chances to help people and make a difference.”

He hopes sermons he preaches there each month on forgiveness and hope has helped at least one person.  He said he has difficulty starting conversations with people at City Gate because he has a hard time relating to their situations.

 “I don’t know what they’re thinking.  I’m going home to a warm bed and food, and many aren’t sure where they’ll sleep that night,” he said.

Once a month, a few students from Eastern Washington University’s Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship volunteer to serve dinner at City Gate.

Senior Robert Hoffman said he volunteers at City Gate because it’s an opportunity to serve people less fortunate than himself.

Sophomore Nate Nystrom, who has helped pour juice and deliver plates of food, said he’s just trying to help the community.

Aware that he often takes what he has for granted, Robert said he goes there as a student volunteer not to look good but to help. Volunteering there challenges him to re-evaluate his life.

Nate said, “It’s something I should do.  I don’t want to live a life that ends with me dying without really helping out in my life.  I  will help wherever I can. 

 “I’ve been living my life for myself and I want to start making a difference,” he said. 

For information, call 455-9670.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © May 2007