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Changing the Rules of Engagement

Changing the Rules of Engagement

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The usual rules of engagement weren’t working.

Matthew and Michelle Coleman had prayed for years about starting a Dream Center outreach program in Michelle’s hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. They felt the Lord’s confirmation to begin in January 2020 — just before COVID-19 hit.

People soon huddled inside, but few had interest in interacting with strangers. So, the Colemans gathered a few volunteers, bought sandwiches from Subway, and went to downtown Asheville to meet locals who lived on the streets, trying to find a connection point.

That’s when they met Miss Anne, a woman who had been homeless for seven years. She had just received a place to live in a low-income apartment complex and invited the Colemans to visit. There they found she had a sleeping bag on the floor and little else.

“We asked if we could help her get a bed and some other things,” Michelle says. “We gathered money from volunteers and went to purchase her a bed and basic needs for her home. When we returned with the items, she just cried.”

The doors slowly started to open with more introductions, more donations — and more beds.

The fulfillment of a dream began to take shape.

Matthew’s first venture into outreach ministry came in 2002, through a youth basketball mentorship program at the Lord’s Gym in Roseville, California. That experience led him to begin preparing, through Global University, for a life of ministry.

Meanwhile, Michelle completed her master’s degree in marketing and, in 2010, met Matthew while both worked with the original Dream Center in Los Angeles. The couple wed in 2012, moved to Sacramento, and for the next several years worked with pastor Greg Fairrington in the development of outreach ministries at Destiny Church, an AG congregation in suburban Rocklin.

In 2018, the Colemans moved to Asheville. They both held positions with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headquartered in nearby Charlotte, while working toward their dream.

Thanks to Miss Anne, they met Deborah, a single mom with a special needs daughter, living in one of the poorest communities in Asheville called Hillcrest. Deborah felt overwhelmed trying to take care of her daughter while holding down a job and keeping up with other life challenges. Relief came through a team of volunteers armed with cleaning supplies, new bedding, and a remodel for her daughter’s room.

As opportunities grew, the number of volunteers increased as well. Soon, four local churches became involved with the fledgling Asheville Dream Center Adopt-A-Block program.

One of the biggest breakthroughs involved meeting Fred Hurst, the facilities manager at Hillcrest. He had grown up in the neighborhood, and like so many before him, found trouble at an early age. Fred served 28 years in prison before returning to the old neighborhood where his mom still lives.

“So many of the tenants are in desperate situations,” says Hurst, who returned to the Lord while in prison. “I try to get to know each of them. I share my story, I tell them about Matt and Michelle, and I offer to pray with them.”

Through Hurst, the team met single moms and grandmothers who have taken in grandkids during the pandemic. These women struggled with hauling their children and dirty clothes on a bus to a self-service laundry while dealing with virtual learning.

Seeing this, the Colemans embraced another unique opportunity for engagement and began to provide washers and dryers for moms.

After one year, the Asheville Dream Center is now partnering with four local nonprofits, 28 churches have either given financially or provided volunteer help. An average of 65 volunteers show up every other Saturday.

So far, these volunteers have delivered more than 60,000 pounds of food and since July have provided 18 washers and dryers, as well as 19 beds, mostly for children who have few of the comforts of home.

“God sent me two angels when Matt and Michelle stepped into my life,” says Hurst, now a passionate member of the Dream Center Leadership Team. “My walk with the Lord has grown this past year, thanks to Matt, who is teaching me how to read and really understand the Bible.

“Most importantly, he has helped me see the big picture. A dream won’t necessarily come to you tomorrow. You have to work toward it every day.”

The dream of Matt, 43, and Michelle, 42, from so many years ago continues to blossom. They are confident that soon the Asheville Dream Center will have a building to call home.

What started with a call from God has rewritten the rules of engagement for the Asheville community. In spite of the fear of the pandemic, many neighborhood residents are now not only sleeping better, but are experiencing the love of God in their lives.

What’s more, from this outreach a new church is being birthed. Scheduled to launch on Easter, it will include a bus outreach to the Adopt-A-Block neighborhoods.

Church plant funds have been provided by the North Carolina Assemblies of God, a network of more than 270 churches.

The Colemans also are grateful for support from the Church Multiplication Network and insights they received through a Launch training event they attended last April.

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