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Pastor Lives on Streets to Raise Funds for Homeless

Pastor Lives on Streets to Raise Funds for Homeless

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A pastor left the comforts of his large Assemblies of God church in California to live on the streets in order to spotlight the plight of the down-and-out.

Rick Cole, pastor of Capital Christian Center in Sacramento which has a weekly attendance of 4,000, spent two weeks last fall posing as one of the city's homeless individuals to help draw attention to homelessness in the region and to raise $300,000 for winter shelters. If the funds were not raised, the program would have to be discontinued.  

“To date, we have raised approximately $280,000 and there are commitments in hand for the remaining funds to complete the program for this winter season,” Cole, 57, says.

The pastor says he asked God for wisdom and gathered a team from the church staff to brainstorm ideas. The day before the meeting, Cole thought about drawing awareness to the need by living among the homeless for a couple weeks.   

“I was not sure if this was crazy, so I did not share it with anyone,” Cole recalls. “In our meeting, another person on our team made a similar suggestion. At that point I felt the confirmation that it was a God-given idea.”

Last October, Cole gained the support of his congregation, wife, and three grown children. His daughter Laine Alves managed the social media campaign for the project and his two sons came out for a night to stay with him in the streets. The church created a website and word of the experiment spread quickly on social media and local media.  

Cole worked with city officials and other church leaders on the issue. He headed out to live on the streets after a final Sunday morning service, only with a small backpack and a sleeping bag. He boarded the city’s light rail and traveled 12 miles downtown. He used the $60 he brought with him sparingly for food when he couldn’t find free meals. The money lasted through the entire two-week experience. 

He spent the first night at a gospel mission shelter, enduring a harsh message from a well-meaning preacher and a restless night of sleep. He found a place in an alley behind an industrial building to sleep, accompanied by two volunteers from church who stayed each night for security purposes.  

“We were awakened on many occasions to the sound of people walking by, dumpster diving, and soliciting drugs,” Cole says. “Though it was uncomfortable and concerning, we were never threatened with any altercations.” 

The experiment changed the pastor and the congregation.  

“I have participated in conversations that minimize the value of homeless people,” Cole says. His past attitudes included sentiments such as the homeless created their own trouble, need to pay the price for their drug or alcohol addictions, should find employment, and are mooching off the government programs financed by hardworking citizens.

“Now, I had time to listen to their stories,” Cole says. “I began to see value in every person I encountered. Regardless of the decisions or events in life that had brought them to this place, there was hope for every one of them. Instead of dismissing them, I felt compassion for them.”  

The church rallied around the cause and contributed significantly to the fundraising efforts. Church members also embraced the needs of the poor in an increased manner. Many have volunteered to help through serving the homeless at Winter Sanctuary, the program operated by a network of churches to support the homeless with food and shelter.

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