Offering a Place of Hope

Offering a Place of Hope

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Nearly four decades ago, Carol Jean and Geary A. Smith wouldn’t have dreamed of running a ministry for people struggling with homelessness and addiction.

More likely, they would have been the ones seeking help.

“Both my husband and I were drug addicts and alcoholics,” says Carol Jean, 60. “We were wild and crazy. There’s no other way to put it.”

But in 1980, the course of their lives changed when they became Christians.

“Ever since we got saved we just felt called into ministry,” she says.

After years of discipleship, the couple received AG ministerial credentials and began pastoring a “normal” church in Minnesota.

Nearly a decade of pastoring later while at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Geary, 63, sensed God speaking a new vision to him as a fellow pastor prayed with him.

“As soon as that pastor laid his hand on me and began to pray the words ‘storefront church,’ storefront ministry came to me,” he says. “I said, ‘Where, God? Chicago? Minneapolis? New York?’”

It turned out to be St. Cloud, Minnesota, only 50 miles from their home. The couple moved there in 1997 to start Place of Hope Ministries, which had humble beginnings.

“We handed out cups of cold water, we gave coffee out,” Geary says. “We ministered randomly to just anybody that came in.”

Today, the reach and impact of Place of Hope has grown to serving 140 people a night and nearly 500 distinct individuals over the course of a month.

Those who come to Place of Hope are homeless, drug addicts, and alcoholics.

“We serve people straight off the street that are under the bridge, sleeping in the woods,” Carol Jean says. “We minister to people who say, ‘I’m hungry. I don’t have a place to stay.’”

Place of Hope owns a five-story building that provides shelter and transitional housing, meals, social services, medical care, addiction counseling, and discipleship. A church also is onsite.

The Smiths believe their call is to live out Isaiah 58 by meeting the basic needs of people in need while “rebuilding, repairing, and restoring lives” with services rooted in compassion.

“The results are in God’s hands,” Carol Jean says.

Three years after starting the storefront ministry, Place of Hope purchased its current five-story building for nearly half a million dollars. Renovation continues on the structure, a former hospital built by the Catholic Diocese in 1899, as donors step forward. In 2007, the ministry raised $3.2 million to build an apartment complex on the campus that serves as low-income housing and transitional housing for people who are homeless.

Place of Hope partners with 20 local churches and over 2,000 volunteers to provide services and support to the city’s troubled. Attitudes have shifted since the ministry started in 1997.

“When we began, I approached some of the pastors of the city, explaining how we wanted to reach out to the down and outers, the homeless, and the drug addicts,” Geary recalls. “One of the pastors asked, ‘Do we even have a problem like that in our city?’ That just put fuel in our tank.”

This year, the ministry has continued to grow with a church plant on the east side of town: City Hope Church.

“A lot of people our age who are doing ministry are retiring,” Carol Jean says. “We really feel strong that we’re to pick up the pace.”

This summer, the couple committed to start providing baptisms monthly because of a perceived need. Recently, a woman staying at the homeless shelter heard about the baptisms and wanted to participate.

“She was homeless on the street, no place to go,” Carol Jean says. “We gave her a place to stay, made her feel safe, and she wanted to give her life to Jesus.”

The Smiths say God’s provision — and daily miracles — keep Place of Hope operating.

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