Cover Story

Desert oasis

"Desert oasis" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," July 27, 2013

The scene is chaotic as the women scavenge through the clothing, filling enormous bags with goods. Mission worker Mike Atkins said most of these donations would end up being sold in flea markets in the next few days, but he said it didn’t bother him: “They need to eat, if they can make money off the clothes to make that happen, that’s fine. Whatever helps them make it.”

Lately the donated goods have decreased, with once-filled shipping containers now barely half full. The recession has hit Nogales hard: Unemployment flounders at 17 percent as jobs are scarce. Now the people coming to Crossroads walk out with 15-pound produce bags that once weighed 30 pounds.

Crossroads also lost access to USDA food supplies and funds after the Arizona Department of Economic Security added requirements that all religious organizations stop “proselytizing.” In order to receive government aid, Crossroads has to get rid of chapel, stop passing out tracts and Bibles with food bags, and take out the word Jesus in its signs.

“[The government aid] would have helped a lot, but we couldn’t do it because our purpose was to honor God,” Ben said. State officials told Ben the mission workers could talk about their faith only if any of the clients asked about it, but he didn’t think that was enough: “The prophets didn’t sit at the city gates and wait for people to approach them. They yelled for the people to repent.”

The chapel is a big reason why many regulars come. Gustavo Rosas, a 78-year-old man with a handlebar mustache and white cowboy hat, said he comes first for the necessity of the Word of God, then for the food. He loves discussing the sermons with the other patrons and hearing their different points of view.

Since losing USDA aid, the Wenkes have continued to pray and trust that God will provide. All nine of the supporting churches in nearby towns like Green Valley increased their giving. While the quality of the food may have decreased–hamburgers rather than sliced roast–the ministry was able to serve 39,000 meals on $4,000 worth of food supplies. Bert said she’s seen miracles while working at the fledgling mission. One moment she’d find the pantry nearly empty. Then someone would come in and drop off $3,000.

“God knew this ministry would run on faith,” Bert said. “We pray for everything. We told ourselves no one should go out of the mission without something in their hand, and that promise has been kept.”

Follow this year’s Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition and vote for the ministry you believe deserves the 2013 award .

Money Box

• 2012 contributions: $496,400

• 2012 expenses: $442,400

• Net assets at the end of 2012: $532,500

• Executive director Ben Wenke’s salary: $38,500

• Staff: Eight employees, 300-plus volunteers

2013 budget: $615,300

• Website: crossroadnewlifecenter.org

Angela Lu
Angela Lu

Angela is a reporter for WORLD News Group who lives and works in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, reading, and storytelling. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.

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