The atmosphere of the Be Clean laundromat in Jefferson City seemed more like a party than a business on May 19 when patrons arrived to discover their laundry was free and snacks were provided.
First Baptist Church of Jefferson City sponsored the laundry day as a way to meet people in the community and show them God’s love in a practical way.
“When we called the owner of the laundromat, he was shocked,” said Jennifer Harris, project coordinator. “He kept asking ‘but there’s a catch, right?’ When we explained we just wanted to show love in a practical way, he was absolutely giddy. He gave us free reign over the business and said he would tell all his employees.”
The laundry day was part of a national emphasis, called ArkAlmighty, encouraging churches to be more engaged at meeting needs both within and beyond the church walls. First Baptist was one of 50 churches to receive a $1,000 grant to be used for community projects during May and June.
ArkAlmighty also provides a free Web site where church and community members can anonymously share their needs or skills with the congregation. The church is then able to pair a need with a skill and make sure the need is met.
The laundry day was the first of two scheduled projects. The second is a food delivery for low-income families. Funds will be used to purchase staple food items.
Church members brought snacks and soft drinks, which were set up on a spare folding table with a sign stating “Yes, this really is free.” The sign also provided church contact information in case people had other needs the church could help meet.
As patrons prepared to put clothes in the washer, volunteers from a team of six approached them and put quarters in the machines.
“Never underestimate the wealth of a few quarters,” said Melissa Hatfield, pastor of youth. “At this event, a few quarters challenged assumptions and built new bridges between neighbors in Jefferson City. These quarters not only provided clean laundry but clean starts in the hearts of many patrons who have only seen the filth of unhealthy churches and religion.
“I was drawn to this laundry event because I believe there needs to be some cleansing of reputations churches have for being oblivious to real needs,” she said. “Standing shoulder to shoulder over a humming washing machine seemed like a great place to begin the cleansing.”
The group experienced mixed reactions. Many people seemed frightened as the group approached. Fear turned into a mixture of surprise and skepticism.
“One man approached two of our team members and asked if they could make change,” Harris said. “When they responded that we were paying and wouldn’t accept his money, he couldn’t believe it. He found out where we were from and asked ‘I’m Catholic, is that okay?’ People had trouble believing that there were no strings attached.”
As people began to comprehend the free gift, they began to open up to the team. Several shared prayer requests, others shared life stories and most shared their thanks for a church that would do something as simple as paying for laundry and food.
“Saturday was an incredible experience,” Harris said. “It not only touched members of the community, but blessed the members of our team. Some of our team members had signed up for one-hour shifts, but once they arrived, we couldn’t get them to leave. I’m hoping this blossoms into a culture of serving and loving others. Isn’t that what the kingdom of God is all about?”
For more information on ArkAlmighty, visit the Web site at www.arkalmighty.com. (5-31-07)