Solace from the streets: Ministry helps comfort the homeless, disadvantaged
By MARK KLAAS
Auburn Reporter Editor
Oct 21 2009, 5:53 PM · UPDATED
Through his tireless work, the Rev. Jerry Larson has seen the sorrow and felt the despair of the human struggle – of those living and dying on Auburn’s lonely streets.
At times, it is too difficult to describe, let alone comprehend the anguish of the homeless and the plight of the disadvantaged.
“It is almost animalistic,” Larson said bluntly. “People fight among themselves, steal from each other. … They live in their cars.
“When you live on the streets, you don’t have a lot of support. There’s not a lot to hold onto,” Larson added. “You see, you don’t live for very long on the streets.”
Larson understands this all too well. Of the thousands he has tried to reach, Larson knows of 31 homeless people who have died on local backstreets and alleyways in 12 years of work with his ministry.
In almost every case, those who died were racked by alcoholism and drug abuse. For these homeless, both young and old, there was no turning back.
Despite the struggles and what happens to too many he tries to help, Larson remains undaunted and committed to his cause today. He continues to offer hope and a helping hand.
He and his wife, Jan, persevere as unheralded shepherds of God’s work – as they best describe it. They are passionate stewards of a non-profit, Bible-based ministry that is fighting to survive financially to help those caught in the pincers of homelessness, alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.
Such a difficult mission keeps the Larsons determined to provide a forgiving means to a promising end for the many who need a hot meal, a warm place to sleep, counseling, medical treatment and recovery. It is a bold, comprehensive program, all in the spirit and purpose of sharing the Gospel.
“We like to lead them to Jesus, but we don’t cram (religion) down their throats,” said Jerry Larson, 63, a lifelong South King County resident and ordained minister for more than 20 years. “We work with the problem. We don’t just disguise it. We want them to discover the Lord and change their lives for the better.
“We get them to shoot for the moon. We might not reach it, but you will be better off than most people when you are reintegrated into society.”
Since His Ministry was established in 1998, the Larsons and their volunteer staff have supplied food, clothing and shelter to thousands of Auburn-area homeless and disadvantaged people. It is one of the few ministries of its kind in Auburn.
The Larsons say they are making a difference and point to ministry’s 92-percent success rate of those who complete the recovery program.
“It’s rewarding, but it’s a tough ministry to be involved in,” said Jan Larson, who has helped cook about 70,000 meals in her 12 years with the ministry. “But there’s nothing we would rather be doing.”
The work is gratifying and at times, thankless. The Larsons don’t earn a wage, but consider influencing and changing lives the ultimate payoff.
Even more challenging is the fact that Jerry Larson goes about his work despite battling health problems. He has undergone 17 surgeries and suffers from complex regional pain syndrome that has diminished the use of his arm and affects his legs.
For the most part, the ministry's work goes almost unnoticed.
“I certainly respect what they have done,” said Pat O’Leary, pastor of Lifegate Auburn Foursquare Church. “(Jerry’s) been a great fixture in Auburn in reaching the needy. He’s made a real difference in the community and being a great example of loving the unlovely. He inspires the rest of us … to get up and get going.”
The Larsons are personified as difference-makers.
Jerry Larson, an experienced counselor and former sports coach, was a successful homebuilder who employed the disadvantaged. Jan, who was in the insurance business before retiring, was an agent and training coordinator. Together, they raised three sons.
As a senior pastor at a nearby church, Jerry Larson wanted to make more of an impact by reaching beyond his own congregation. It was a gamble, but he insists the ministry was God’s calling.
The Larsons began serving meals out of Les Gove Park and Grace Community Church. The mobile ministry bounced around a few locations before the Larsons secured more permanent grounds by leasing office space on Auburn Way South earlier this year.
The new center provides room for consultation and counseling. A volunteer-staffed kitchen serves hot meals twice a week, feeding about 40 each seating. There also is storage for a clothing bank, and when the weather turns colder, limited shelter to accommodate homeless overnight.
The ministry works with other organizations to provide referrals for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, transitional housing, spiritual guidance and counseling, computer training and other educational opportunities.
“People are on the street because they made bad decisions, and Jan and Jerry are there to help them make good decisions,” said Dennis Brooke, a ministry volunteer. "Unlike some groups, they’re not interested in enabling them to continue to live a homeless lifestyle. They provide resources to help them become productive members of society.”
As effective as the ministry has been, the problem remains just as chronic and challenging, especially in these trying and desperate times.
“And it has changed a lot,” said Katherine See, who has worked as an active volunteer since the ministry’s inception, “We are seeing families, couples and the working poor.”
Many of the today's homeless might be working poor, living in cars. Many remain hidden, preferring anonymity, the Larsons observed. A vast majority of homeless people exist out of sight in refuges, squats and unsatisfactory or overcrowded accommodations, or on the floors or sofas of friends and families.
The Larsons have seen the gamut. While they have witnessed tragedy, they have been a part of many inspirational stories and successful recoveries.
Yet more homeless victims appear at the ministry's doorstep each day. Some stay, some go.
Through donations of supplies and money, the Larsons hope the ministry will continue to serve in these uncertain times.
“I think we are making a difference,” Jerry Larson said. “We have to open their eyes and see that their lives can be better.
“This is what needs to be done,” he said. “I’m not going to walk away and turn my back on these people who need help.”
Note: For those wishing to donate food, clothing and money, contact Jerry Larson at 253-315-9570. Checks may be mailed to: His Ministry Fellowship,
P.O. Box 221, Auburn, WA 98071-0221. For more information, visitAuburn Reporter Editor Mark Klaas can be reached at email@example.com or 253-833-0218, ext. 5050.
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