Pastor Smith ministers to the homeless
‘He has shown unconditional love’
The Church Without Walls has impacted dozens of people’s lives over the years. Here is what a few congregation members had to say about the powerful ministry:
“I came here when I was homeless, still on drugs, hungry and basically just came out for the food. I was drawn to the message that Pastor Austin was bringing. It captivated me and I started to come every Sunday and eventually I gave my heart to the Lord. I went into drug treatment and got my life together.
“astor Austin has had a strong impact on my life and the love he has shown me has been unconditional. This church has strengthened my spirituality and these people have become a part of my family.”
“I came out to The Church Without Walls a year or so ago after someone invited me and I’ve liked it ever since. Here, I feel comfortable. I can express myself and it’s down to earth. Things are always explained and the message always uplifts me.”
“I got an invitation from Pastor Austin to come and be a part of the church. I started coming and now I will never stop. I find the fellowship to be great and the Holy Spirit moves from heart to heart when you’re here.
“Coming here has brought me closer to God. What I like about the way the pastor ministers is that if you have a question or can’t understand something, there’s an appropriate time in the service to ask. He lets us speak, we’re not just spoken at.
“I also have a mental illness and this ministry has helped me to focus on the fact that God can deliver and set free. I may not be healed from the disease, but I’m better able to cope with it and come out here every week to receive the Holy Spirit.”
“I was giving a guy a ride one day on my way to church. He was coming to The Church Without Walls and we got talking. That was seven or eight years ago.
“I attend a traditional church service and then come here afterwards to enjoy the message by Pastor Austin. As he says, he brings it ‘straight up with no chaser’ so that even a child can understand.
“Pastor Austin must really be called by God to this work because what people put into the offering plate is only a pittance, but somehow the ministry is still surviving.”
Fifteen years ago, Pastor Austin Smith felt God give him a nudge.
He was pursuing a degree in theology and leading a Bible-study class but God told him he’d serve people better if he went beyond the four walls of the church.
He made six plates of codfish and potato breakfasts, which he handed out to the City of Hamilton’s homeless along with an encouraging word.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I started by ministering to people on Front Street,” he said. “That was what I felt I was supposed to do. The next week I made nine breakfasts and did the same thing. People would come out and sit on paint tins and buckets as I preached and, over time, it just started to grow.”
The Church Without Walls typically attracts between 20 and 30 people to its 12.30pm Sunday meetings on the second level of Bull’s Head Car Park.
People are encouraged to come as they are and receive a practical Biblical message delivered “straight up with no chaser”, followed by a hearty meal courtesy of The Eliza DoLittle Society.
“From day one I felt the word of God had to be given to people that wouldn’t usually go to a conventional church,” Mr Smith said. “Somewhere they didn’t have to dress up or worry if they hadn’t had a bath, where they could come just as they are.
“A lot of churches say that but if someone came in and hadn’t bathed in two weeks and smelled, they would definitely get some strange looks. I wanted a ministry where people who have those types of challenges would be welcome.”
Everyone who attends The Church Without Walls has a story.
Some are homeless or marginalised, others are battling serious mental health issues or are caught up in a life of crime, drugs or prostitution.
“People come here, hear the message of God and it changes their lives and many of them move on to be productive members of the community,” Mr Smith said. “Some of them can be found in different churches. Every now and then, I run into someone saying thank you. They tell me how their life has been transformed.
“One woman was living in abandoned houses. She was a cocaine addict and prostitute when she came here. Now she is a woman of dignity. Another woman was afraid because of her mental challenges with schizophrenia, but I look at her now and she helps to read the scriptures and shares her poetry in the services.
“We have a mix of people, yet there is no line of demarcation — even if it exists, everybody is going to be treated with respect.”
Every year, the ministry hosts a clothing drive for some of the regulars.
On one occasion, a woman brought some clothes but asked that they not go to any drug addicts or alcoholics.
“I said, ‘If that’s the case, don’t give us the clothes’,” Mr Smith said. “Jesus kept company with sinners and He fed the hungry — we will continue to do that.”
Although rewarding, running the ministry hasn’t always been easy.
For many years, he bought food for the congregation with his own money; as little as $5 would sometimes be received as part of the weekly offering.
More recently, support has come from The Eliza DoLittle Society, while other charities and wholesalers have offered discounts on food. Still the ministry struggles with costs.
“For ten years I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this’. I fought with God every step of the way,” Mr Smith said. “I wanted to teach the Bible, I didn’t want to be out on the streets. But about five years ago I had a health scare and had to be taken to Johns Hopkins for major surgery.
“I had an opportunity while I was there to speak to God and I had an experience where I felt someone telling me I was going to die in that hospital room and that the ministry would be given to my daughter. It went against everything God had told me personally, so I rejected it and sang By His Stripes I Am Healed.
“I had just come out of surgery and wasn’t breathing properly. I said to God, ‘You get me a comeback, I will fully commit myself to doing this’.”
Mr Smith’s sermons differ from those at a traditional church service. Many members of the congregation don’t know the difference between Genesis and Revelation; they didn’t grow up attending church.
“I aim to make the messages uplifting and empowering,” he said. “I can’t bring a message that’s informational. It has to be transformational because we help people live better lives.”
For more information call 703-9132.
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