Portland Central Church of the Nazarene is taking Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” to a whole new level.
A few years ago the church began searching for a better way to serve the homeless community in their city. After a lot of time, preparation, and collaboration with other local churches and organizations, the church began building a homeless housing neighborhood that they are calling Agape Village.
“Our ultimate goal is to have 15 [tiny houses],” said Lead Pastor Matt Huff. “We will probably have six completed before the end of this year and will hopefully finish the rest before the fall of 2019.”
Construction began this June, and the village is being built on the church’s property. Each tiny house will be about 8x12 feet and will be equipped with a solar-powered battery that will provide light and a place to charge electronic devices. The homes will not have running water, but the village will have a common kitchen area, shower, and restrooms. The units will be well insulated, and the church is currently exploring other options for heating.
Though there are a few villages like this in the Portland area, this is the first time a church has taken something like this into their own hands.
“This village was born out of a desire to love God and to love our neighbors,” Huff said. “We are located in an area of Portland with lots of poverty and brokenness. Many people often sleep on our property. So, we started to explore what it means for us to love them since they are most definitely our neighbor.”
The need for solutions like this has grown in recent years. In 2015, Portland declared a state of emergency on housing and homelessness due to the thousands of adults and children left to survive on the streets.
“There are over 4,000 people without permanent housing in Portland, according to the last official count I am aware of,” Huff said. “This population seems to be growing. There are shelters, many of which are full with long waiting lists. There are camps and tents scattered all over the city. The homeless population is not hidden; it is very evident and a very big problem. There are hundreds of homeless children. The last time I called to try to get help for a homeless family, I was told the waiting list was over 500 families long. The need is much greater than available resources.”
The Agape Village project is a massive undertaking, but it’s not Central Church’s first ministry to the homeless community.
“We had someone in the church build a cabinet that sits at the entrance of our parking lot that we keep filled with items people often ask for: socks, gloves, hats, blankets, water, and other miscellaneous items,” Huff said. “Last winter, and possibly again this winter, we served as an emergency warming center during the extremely cold nights. We had between 75 and 100 people sleep in the church the nights we were open.”
The church has also been serving with a local organization called Operation Nightwatch by preparing and delivering meals for the homeless in South East Portland on a monthly basis for the last several years.
“We are striving to be a people characterized by the love of God,” Huff said. “When they see us, they see the love of God at work flowing in us and through us.”
As they look forward to finishing their current project, Huff and the rest of Central Church dream of how they can reach the community in new ways through partnerships with other local churches.
“Once the village is complete, our goal is to just be friends with our new neighbors and love them as Christ loved us and hopefully other churches will join us in the effort,” Huff said. “It would be great to have one church partner for every guest in the village.”
Not only is this something Huff believes his church is capable of doing, he thinks it is something they are called to do.
“Dr. Busic (Church of the Nazarene General Superintendent David Busic) just recently put it perfectly when he said ‘Wesley’s understanding of ministry to and with the marginalized poor, sick, and imprisoned was more than compassion; as a means of grace for the Christian, it is indispensable to Wesleyan spirituality,’” Huff said. “’These acts of mercy become the ways by which God works to establish the character of holiness in God’s people and to give growth in grace toward the recovery of the divine image.’”