“Wash your hands” is the emphatic message we’ve all heard since the infamous COVID-19 virus forced residents across North America into their homes to take cover from an ominous, invisible enemy.
But sheltering in place—while challenging—is a luxury some can’t afford. And even though we’re all vulnerable to the virus, homeless people are particularly at risk.
Ryan Sidhom, lead pastor of River City Church (a one-year-old church plant) in Vancouver, Washington, wanted to serve those in his community who didn’t have the ability to simply wash their hands whenever they wanted.
RIVER CITY CHURCH: THE PORT-A-POTTY PITSTOP
About 1,000 homeless individuals live within walking distance of their church building.
“We started praying for ways we could engage the homeless community, but we didn’t know what that looked like. Two days later, I got a call from the Mental Health Association of Portland,” Sidhom explained. “They were looking for a facility in our neighborhood that had parking space they could turn into a pitstop for the homeless in our community.”
In this pandemic era, it seems everything (but a cure) moves fast. The fear of the coronavirus is that it spreads quickly and undetected, causing people to frequently sanitize their hands. So, the partnership between River City Church, Washington Recovery Services (another community partner) and the Mental Health Association of Portland moved speedily.
“We partnered with them quickly, and we had three port-a-potty (one that’s handicap accessible) and two hand washing stations in our church parking lot. They also use the church for storage space,” Sidhom said. “The pitstop station is open from 8 a.m.–6 p.m., seven days a week. And each port-a-potty is sanitized after every use. They’re probably the cleanest bathrooms in our city right now.”
River City Church’s port-a-potty pitstop for the homeless community in their neighborhood
BEAUTIFUL FEET AND CLEAN HANDS
Sidhom and their volunteers converse with the men and women who come to the pitstop, and in doing so, they’ve found more ways to meet their pressing needs during this pandemic.
“Starting this weekend, we’ll have portable shower trailers for homeless individuals to use, too! This was in response to a conversation we had with a homeless individual who mentioned he has not been able to take a shower since early March as a result of the city shutting down the homeless day center.”
Sidhom has been encouraged to see God’s people share the gospel with the homeless and the volunteers who serve them (some who are members at River City Church and many who aren’t).
“One of our main volunteers was homeless. He was living in his car and driving here to the church every day. I had some spiritual conversations with him, and he shared he was dabbling in Satanism. In fact, at that moment he’d just finished a Satanist ‘bible’ study,” Sidhom said. “I asked if he would be open to studying the Bible with me and he said ‘yes,’ so I bought him a Bible, he started reading it, we’ve continued having conversations and he’s joined one of our small groups. He said, ‘If this kind of love is what you guys are about, I want to be part of this. When this is all said and done, I want to join your church.’”
Pastor, church planter, Christ follower: may our faith bring us opportunities to share God’s love in even the most ignoble places.
How beautiful are the feet of them who bring good news to a port-a-potty pitstop.