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Rescue mission residents and staff pray together
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Rescue mission residents and staff pray together

Planting churches just ‘outside the gates of hell’

Religion

A young church in Southern California has sprouted in an unusual place: the middle of a rescue mission. And this rescue mission is no hovel in a rundown part of town. At Orange County Rescue Mission’s Village of Hope in Tustin, Calif., palm trees, statues, and fountains greet visitors inside a set of beautiful carved gates.

The Village of Hope, a shelter and ministry for the homeless, sits on a few acres of a Marine Corps Air Station that closed in 1999. The mission looks like a small college campus, one designed and built with careful attention to beauty. The goal was to make the place reflect the beauty and peace of God.

“They had planned no churches on this entire community,” said Jim Palmer, president and CEO of Orange County Rescue Mission. “Five thousand more homes were going to be built here.”

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The mission had a chapel it used for various worship services with visiting worship teams and preachers. But Palmer realized that the rescue mission’s clients—referred to as students—needed more than that. They needed to connect to a local church.

Palmer contacted a pastor named Tony Wood who had recently planted a church several miles away and asked if he would consider relocating to the mission, using the chapel there for worship services.

Within a few months, the Church at the Mission was born. Rescue mission students attend the church side-by-side with residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

Jody Puckett, a student at the mission, said being part of a church community has made a huge difference in her life.

“They bring God right here to us,” Puckett said. “They open it to the public, so it’s not only just us students, it’s people from the outside. So that’s an awesome thing, too, because I have family members coming here now.”

The church benefits the students at the rescue mission and those who serve them, Palmer said. 

“There’s a lot of spiritual warfare and emotional dynamics that are huge when you’re working with people who are very, very broken,” he said. “I mean, this looks really beautiful, but literally, you know, it’s like operating outside the gates of hell. You need a lot of support to get through it.”

The model pioneered at the Village of Hope, with a church onsite at a rescue mission, is leading to more church planting at other missions in the area. And plans are in the discussion stage for a training program targeted to churches and missions across the country on how to connect local churches to the work of rescue missions.

Listen to Sophia Lee tell more about the Church at the Mission on The World and Everything in It:

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