Port Austin Bible Campus, 8180 Port Drive, PO Box 474, Port Austin,
Michigan, USA, 48467. • 989-738-7700 • firstname.lastname@example.org
In This Issue
PABC Newsletter #1 — May 2013
This is the first issue of Port Austin Bible Campus Newsletter. Its purpose is to increase the effectiveness of service and ministry to homeless people in Michigan's thumb. It hopes to do this through the following objectives:
This newsletter will not be fancy. It uses a single format designed to work reasonably well on both the Internet and in print—with no need for time-consuming conversion between formats. Sending via e-mail will keep our costs down, but if it is more likely to be read if it is sitting on a table somewhere, we will gladly send it in print. We can do both, if you prefer.
We would welcome on-topic questions and comments to be published in future issues.
From our all-time high of 41 people living at PABC last November, only three remain here. Nearly all of the other 38 people went to long-term housing and are still there. We presently have 15 people on campus, 11 men, 3 women and 1 child. Five of those here now have jobs and should be moving on in a month or two.
PABC began taking homeless people in July 2010. As of this writing, we have provided 15,687 bed-nights (the total number of nights that all of the people stayed) for 76 men, 62 women and 50 children. We have done an "intake" for an additional 107 people, but either they found another place first, or we were able to help them find a better solution.
We have a new Christian man, who arrived directly from prison, but who plans to stay at PABC as a full time worker after his trial period ends. In the month that he has been here, he has worked out great! While this may sound scary to some, one of the best PABC workers we have had in the past was a man who spent 30 years in prison and then worked at PABC for years. We do not know how we would have survived without him. (He is now in college and has a job.) Remember that even Jesus had “recovered” people as loyal workers (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2).
With the help of our Guests, we are planting a garden again this year. Our gardens have always supplied a lot of food for the staff and guests. We are still eating from the freezers of last year. Thanks to diligent planting and weeding two years ago, we are enjoying fresh asparagus now—it takes that long to get established.
We have found these helpful (does not include Marlette, Imlay City, Lapeer or Flint).
We are continually aware of the diversity among our homeless Guests. Many are here for only a few weeks, waiting on government housing programs. Others have complications that slow that process down: past evictions, past due utility bills, domestic legal issues, substance abuse history, medical conditions, felony criminal records, sex offender status [no longer allowed at PABC], etc. Most need some form of steady monetary inflow to obtain long-term housing. Some are just now entering the work force. Others are waiting for disability or social security to begin paying them.
Their capabilities are diverse also. Some are very good about attending our Bible classes and meetings but are not so responsible with things they need to do on their own. Others don’t like to come to classes, but they can keep outside appointments. Some are good at applying for jobs or government assistance—others are fearful of it. Some seek help for their substance abuse problems, others deny they have them. Some keep their room clean on their own, others will leave trash piled up for weeks—when 10 minutes of work would fix it. Some are in their rooms every night at the proper time; others are often where they do not have permission to be.
From our nearly three years of experience with the great diversity of our Guests, we have realized that a “one size fits all” approach to dealing with them will not work. If we try to monitor everything that everybody does all of the time, we would exhaust our staff and create a lot of animosity in those Guests who handle their own affairs well. At the opposite extreme, if we do not monitor anything, we miss out on helping people in areas where we could make a big difference in their lives.
What is the solution? How do we do all this simply and efficiently? With a customizable automated system! Fortunately, Norman Edwards worked as a computer analyst/programmer for the first half of his adult life. He is now in the process of developing an automated system to allow for scheduling each Guest and staff function—and to verify that these functions were completed. Items that were not properly completed, as well as their future schedule, will appear on each Guest and staff member’s report. Guests that handle their affairs well may receive only one report per week showing their planned schedule. Guests that are struggling will receive daily reports—which will high-light the events that they have not properly completed. Those who keep up with their responsibilities will be subject to less monitoring. Those who do not keep up with their assigned tasks will be given more monitoring—or eventually asked to leave if they are uncooperative.
While PABC continues to extend its service to the people of the Thumb, it is in court defending a criminal offense—having chickens! On Monday, June 11, 2012, Norman Edwards was invited to speak about the Port Austin Bible Campus to a board meeting of the Village of Port Austin . While PABC is outside the Village limits (it is in the Port Austin Township),the Village board asked us to come because we are only 2 miles away and many of the PABC Guests walk into the Village for jobs, shopping and various services. We went to the meeting hoping that we would be able to better understand each other and be able to address their concerns.
Their clear message from the majority of people who spoke at the meetings was that they felt we needed a lot more money for infrastructure and professional people to help homeless people. They said absolutely nothing about helping to raise that money so either we or someone else to do the job. Instead, they made it clear they did not want homeless people, especially those with criminal records, to be anywhere near their Village. They were not concerned with where they might go or whether their families would be able stay together—as long as it was somewhere else. The Port Austin Township Supervisor commented “Edwards is not educated or qualified to be doing what he is doing and there may be other avenues to go through.”
They did not seem interested in our evidence that everyone is better off when homeless people have somewhere to live—they are not so tempted to live by crime, to squat on other's property or sleep in public places. We wrote a letter to the Port Austin Township, The Village of Port Austin, our county Commissioner and the Huron Daily Tribune asking to meet together so we could further discuss our differences, but never received a reply. The Tribune printed it, but that was all.
Nine days after the village meeting, The Township Zoning Inspector sent a certified letter to us telling us our property was not zoned for “farm animals” and gave us 48 hours to remove them. The approximately 40 chickens we have are fed largely from leftovers and spoiled donated food. They provide a wonderful source of fresh eggs. Some of the homeless Guests help care for the chickens; all the Guests are required to separate usable food from other trash. It is a good lesson for all: when one does not have a job, one should use one's time to save money. We have had chickens in the same location for the last seven years-and have never had complaints about noise from anyone. Was this letter one of the "other avenues" mentioned above?
On October 10th, a criminal citation was issued, and Huron County 73B District Court case 12-1982-ON began. The penalty for having “farm animals in a business district” is a $100 fine or 90 days in jail. Indeed, some have advised us to “get rid of the chickens and stay out of court”. But the records from court discovery show that no neighbors have complained about the chickens that have been there for eight years. It is not a matter that they are endangering anybody or anything. Furthermore, it appears that simply moving the chickens to a different part of our property, might satisfy their zoning requirements. It seems to us a matter of the township deciding to enforce one of hundreds of existing zoning violations in the township—one that makes life more difficult for us, a church ministry that appears inconvenient to them.
The New Testament has examples of believers doing good works (much more significant than ours) who were persecuted by their governments (in a much greater way than we are). Nevertheless, the Bible commands us to make courts and appellate systems that are just and fair (Deuteronomy 1:16-17; 16:18-20, 17:8-13). We see numerous examples where the Apostles used those systems—sometimes receiving justice, sometimes not, always knowing that God would rendr ultimate justice.
We believe it is important to defend our legal rights over chickens, or we will probably have to defend them over much graver issues. The zoning and other ordinances are extensive, and it is probably almost always possible to find something wherein a particular property is in violation. We intend to put up a defence on multiple fronts:
We have not been a stranger to litigation on these kinds of matters. In 2005, our property tax exemption was denied. Tax assessor training classes only teach about churches that are recognized by the IRS as tax exempt under IRS code section 501(c)(3). It was not until 2007 that we received a hearing in court, but when we did, it took the judge only about half an hour to decide that our property was tax exempt.
The district court judge called a settlement conference in April, but there was no hope of reaching settlement. The Port Austin Township insisted that the case was only about zoning and had nothing to do with wanting PABC to stop its ministry. We believe a church community has a constitutional and legislative right to carry out its mission to help the poor in spite of efforts to stop it through zoning. There will certainly be a lot of controversy over which evidence will be allowed to be presented and the reasons why it should or should not be. While we would like to devote our time to our main mission, we realize that a lot of those legal questions will not be authoritatively answered short of the appeals courts.
At times, we are asked some usual questions about our ministry. That is good! Other times, we have been investigated by various government agencies—that is not quite so good—but the investigations have always been over very quickly. Occasionally, we meet somebody who wants nothing to do with us because of some terrible thing they heard. Rarely, these rumors make it into web sites or publications! Why?
It is one of the facts of life in ministering to homeless people. The people we serve vary greatly. Some are skilled, competent people who had unfortunate circumstances or who made a single mistake. Others are homeless as a result of their ongoing destructive lifestyle. One such destructive modus operandi is searching for those who have significant resources, then attempting to obtain those resources by flattery, threats or a combination of both. For example, one of our Guests once asked very nicely for some something she wanted. When she was refused, she said, "I don't know who regulates you, but I'm going to find out and file a nasty complaint."
The goal our ministry is to give people who have lost their home a chance to get a new start. We hope they will see and repent of self-destructive ways. When we see these flattering/threatening behavior, we read the book of Proverbs or other literature that explains that these ways do not work in the long-term. When Guests persist in them, we must ask them to leave PABC for the protection of the others who live there. We also hope they will realize this difficult behavior cost them a place to stay.
Nevertheless, they usually do not see themselves as the problem. When we do not go along with them, they may carry through with their threats. They may take their creative, negative story to government agencies, lawyers, other homeless service providers, churches or people on the street. Some stories have been: "PABC sent me out for no reason", "PABC has no electricity or running water" or "PABC is extorting from poor people". The few investigating agencies that came spent only a few minutes at PABC and left, realizing it was a hoax.
Sometimes Guests seem unable to apply the golden rule and think about how they would react if they were treated the way they treat others. Years ago, a Guest grandmother was upset with her daughter and reported her for child abuse. The grandchildren were investigated by CPS and no abuse was found. But the grandmother could not understand why her daughter stopped letting her visit her grandchildren! Later we found the woman making serious false accusations against another local Christian leader, and we told her she would need to stop and apologize, or leave. She left, amid a flurry of more false accusations and three false police reports against us!
With this in mind, we encourage you to call, e-mail or visit if you hear some terrible thing about us or our Guests. We are happy to let concerned individuals see our operations, records, etc. We believe that those who are helping Christian ministries have a right to determine if their efforts are going for a good cause. Most Guests here are very thankful and do not cause trouble. Even the difficult ones sometimes learn and change. We would much rather people ask us seemingly difficult questions, than fall victim to a false story that is easily disprovable. Thanks for listening!
The Bible mentions the principle of gleaning—allowing the poor to pick leftovers from other's fields after the owners had finished the main harvest (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Ruth 2:2, 15). A prosperous farmer did not really need these gleanings, which cost much more per pound to harvest, but they would provide both work and sustenance for the poor. In that spirit, we would like to encourage our friends to give us things that they own but are not using, that we can use to work and provide for ourselves. We have a small truck and trailer we can use to pick up these items when convenient. Just call 989-738-7700.
Thank you very much for considering our ministry.