HAZELWOOD – Sometimes staying in a hotel is no vacation.
“There are hotels in Hazelwood that cater to people who are homeless,” said Jim Walker, lead pastor at Hazelwood Baptist Church (HBC), located in northwest St. Louis County. “They are families who get evicted because they couldn’t make rent or because outstanding utility bills overwhelm them and they’ve exhausted their other options. They are living week to week or even day by day.”
Seeing the need and desiring to do something about it, HBC essentially adopted one of the hotels as one of their mission fields. They bus people from the hotel to the church to take part in Bible studies and children’s ministries, they provide lunches when they can and, most importantly, they make it their mission to build relationships with the people.
While the church has been reaching out to them in various ways for the last year or so, Walker said the church intends to utilize the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) Summer Missions Mentor Initiative to serve with even more intentionality in the coming months.
“It is part of the disciple-making purpose of our church to raise up young people to be lifelong missionaries,” said Walker, who has served at Hazelwood for 11 years. “We realized about seven years ago that we were sending our young people to college basically unprepared in hopes that they would be ready to bring the gospel to the world around them. We were wrong, we’ve repented of that, and now we are taking that responsibility back.”
Not only will HBC members intentionally pour into the discipleship of these young people, Walker said the church also plans to allow their interns to take charge of the logistics for a month-long food service and outreach ministry at the hotel.
“Summer school ends in June so throughout the month of July our plan is to take lunches over there every day,” he said. “Yes, I said every day. While there, we also want to have a backyard Bible club in the common area.”
He said missionary interns will be in charge of recruiting daily volunteers, scheduling on-site security and organizing lunches every day.
“We have one outside mission team coming to help us one week, but it would great if we had more,” Walker said. “Since we’ve started building relationships with people there we’ve seen youth come to believe in Christ and many of the children are now involved in our children’s ministry.”
The hotel outreach is not the only community-focused ministry God has given HBC. The Hazelwood Police Department asked Walker to be their chaplain, which has opened up more opportunities for service and for sharing the love of Christ.
“We believe very strongly in relational missions and don’t hop around from one place to another,” he said. “Just like in our church planting partnerships with El Salvador and Peru, we try to find the people of peace and work those avenues. When the police department needs volunteers, they call us. That’s exactly what we want them to do.”
On June 3 HBC will celebrate its 60th anniversary and Walker’s prayer is that the church will continue to reflect the community at large and embrace its diversity in Hazelwood.
“Whatever God wants, that’s what we want,” he said. “It’s an amazing privilege to be an instrument God would choose to be a part of his work. I pray that we will be able to shift ministries as the Lord leads, never get too comfortable and to always be faithful. We have been a vibrant fellowship in the community for a lot of years. I pray we continue to keep shining the gospel bright in north (St. Louis) County.”