My first introduction to John 3:16 Mission was in the 1960s. I was just a kid at Tulsa Bible Church when the late Pastor Bob Kelso gathered up a bunch of kids and took us down to the old Tribune Building at 20 E. Archer Street in Downtown Tulsa.
(By the way, that building was built in 1924 to house the former Tulsa Tribune newspaper, which was purchased by the Tulsa World in 1992 and then shut down. The Tribune relocated and John 3:16 Mission was there until it was forced to move to its present location.)
Pastor Kelso spoke regularly at the mission, which was founded by the Rev. Bob Geisinger in 1952. The homeless men, back then we called them “bums” and “hobos,” got a free meal and a place to sleep but they were required to sit through a short service. Pastor Kelso shared the message of Jesus Christ, the savior of mankind, and how God can transform lives.
I was a young boy and had never seen men that were so down and out. They were mostly drunks, some were mentally ill and most of them looked bad and smelled bad.
Pastor Kelso brought kids to the mission so we could sing songs about Jesus and to introduce us to a side of life that we wouldn’t otherwise experience. Hopefully, our initial disgust and revulsion would turn to compassion and eventually help for the needy.
It’s hard sometimes to love the unlovely.
But that’s what they do at John 3:16 Mission.
I have become friends with the Rev. Steve Whitaker and I used to work with Scott Wigton, who is on staff at the mission. Both men have been guests on my radio show, Tulsa Beacon Weekend, on KCFO AM970.
At their invitation, I have visited John 3:16 Mission and shared a meal.
A lot has changed since the 1960s.
No other ministry has endured for so long in Tulsa. And I would say that none has stayed more true to its mission of saving lives through transformational faith in Jesus Christ.
In recent years, the mission added the Family and Youth Center at 2027 Martin Luther King Boulevard. In 2013, the Mission purchased a former elementary school along with 150 acres of rural land surrounding it. After renovations, this facility will house long-term, live-in recovery programs for both homeless men and women.
The mission has been subject to the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome. In 2011, money poured in to expand the kitchen at the location at 506 N. Cheyenne Ave. The work has been so effective in helping the homeless that even secular groups in Tulsa have been supportive.
But that didn’t stop a series of lawsuits to prevent the expansion of the mission kitchen simply because some property owners downtown didn’t want a rescue mission close by. Through a series of compromises, the legal problems disappeared.
Rev. Whitaker has a real heart for people.
He always says, “Hope begins with a meal.”
Last Thanksgiving, the mission handed out 4,117 turkey baskets, each with a frozen turkey, canned and boxed foods and enough to feed a family of four. Folks in Tulsa are very generous and they step up to the plate – literally – to make sure that people don’t go hungry, especially during the holidays.
And it’s not just the homeless that have problems. Poor working families are having trouble making ends meet and a little boost during Thanksgiving and Christmas can mean a lot.
Sometimes it’s easy to get a little jaded. My father always taught me and my brothers to live independently and take care of ourselves and our families. He didn’t want us to rely on government handouts or ever turn to begging.
But throughout the seasons of life, people experience hardship, some of their own making and some through no fault of their own. Jesus had a heart for the poor and downtrodden.
One great aspect of John 3:16 Mission is that they have follow up programs for those who want to better their situations. That includes job training and of course, spiritual development.
In our culture, anyone can become homeless. It doesn’t take much. Sickness, job layoffs, personal tragedy, drug addiction, alcoholism, casino gambling and other problems are destroying lives and families.
Who is there to pick up the pieces?
John 3:16 Mission isn’t the only ministry in Tulsa that does this important work but it is one that is worthy of support. The mission needs cash, food donations for its ongoing meal ministry and volunteers. When the freezing winter weather hits, the mission has its greatest needs.
Please go to www.john316mission.org to donate and find out more.
By the way, John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”