Adventist Church Launches Initiative to Bring Hope & Wholeness to Spokane

Looking at the Spokane River and the snowcapped mountains in the distance, one might think Spokane, Washington, idyllic. Look a little deeper and the picture changes rapidly. Washington's second largest city isn't even close to paradise.

For its size, Spokane is home to one of the highest crime rates in America. Spokane County has significantly more drug felonies than any other county in the state. Add in the high rate of violent crime, drug addiction and suicide, and the darkness and deep need are very evident.

"This city is our largest mission field," says Minner Labrador, Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) president. "We've served in Spokane for more than 100 years, but, now more than ever, we are needed."

An Invitation and Open Doors

Several years ago civic leaders reached out to faith-based organizations in an effort to better serve Spokane's growing needs. City leaders invited religious leaders to attend an all-day conference at Whitworth College. The conference met to answer two questions: What makes God weep over Spokane and what can faith-based organizations do to help Spokane?

Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference Adventist Community Services director, attended the meeting with 21 other Adventists, by far the largest representation from any organization. "I left that conference hopeful and excited," says Marsh. "I sensed God was working in a very special way for Spokane."

God was indeed at work. John Torquato, an Adventist physician working with Total Health Spokane, wanted to discover how the Adventist Church could better serve the largest population center in Upper Columbia Conference. He and a few others began talking with civic leaders, including the mayor.

"During the meeting, the mayor placed his hand over the map in several areas and said, 'We have services here,'" Torquato explains. "Then he put his hand over another neighborhood and said, 'We have great need in the Mead area. Anything you can do here would be great.'"

The mayor's invitation launched a search in the Mead area for opportunities to provide health services. The search revealed a 125-unit trailer park with huge needs. 

"When we first began health outreach in the trailer park, there were at least 23 crack houses," says Torquato. "Many kids in that community had nothing to eat because their parents were strung out on drugs."

Momentum Gathers

The Seventh-day Adventist Church launched the “Mission to the Cities” initiative in New York City in 2013.  This global initiative seeks to impact the cities of the world through its ongoing comprehensive, holistic approach. One goal was to make disciples among the least reached urban people groups by starting new groups of believers and meeting their identified needs through urban centers of influence. 

In Spokane, a group of leaders began to meet together, pray together and vision together. They looked for ways that the conference, local churches, pastors and supporting ministries could collaborate as never before — taking down the barriers and working in unity. Ultimately, they came up with two outreach goals.

The primary goal is to establish more urban centers of influence in Spokane to meet the city’s needs just like Jesus did — with no strings attached. The prayerful expectation is that, as God’s people serve the community, people will respond to Christ’s love as they’ve experienced it.

Spokane is blessed with three well-established urban centers of influence already. The Better Living Center is one example. It has long been one of Spokane’s premier food banks, providing nearly a half million pounds of food a year to Spokane residents.

Plans have been made to capitalize on the existing urban centers of influence and partner more closely with churches to establish more centers and empower greater collaborative outreach.

"Can you imagine what will happen when even greater collaboration happens?" says Marsh. "I can't wait to see how God will bless when we work together for our community."

The second goal for the initiative is that, as greater collaboration takes place, new groups of believers will be started and new ministries supported by these centers of influence will be replicated in other locations throughout the greater Spokane area or among groups where there is minimal or no Adventist presence.

Green Lights Ahead

With the overall goals in place, Upper Columbia Conference submitted their formal application for the global missions grant. Then the team prayed and waited. 

In late fall, Marsh and others at the conference office received an email announcing Spokane had been selected for the Mission to the Cities grant. The conference will receive $500,000 from the world church Annual Sacrifice offerings and other donations over the next five years to assist with this citywide outreach. Additional financial contributions from the North American Division, North Pacific Union Conference and UCC bring the amount to more than $900,000.

Please pray for this significant outreach and those continuing to fine-tune and develop detailed plans for service and church planting. UCC will be extending specific invitations for member involvement, so look for updates and ways to be involved. One of these opportunities includes a plan to invite more than 120 Total Health volunteer missionaries to come live in Spokane and take part in health ministry efforts over the next five years.

"Mission to the Cities: Spokane is about reaching one more for Jesus," says Labrador. "I invite your prayers and financial support for this collaborative effort between our churches and community outreach ministries. Together, let's pray for one more."