Pleasant Grove Baptist Church has a new ministry that is, well, cleaning up.
A laundry ministry, launched by church missions director Shannon Hancock, has been going strong since March. They come to two different laundromats in Owensboro, four times a month, with detergent, dryer sheets, quarters (lots of them) and compassionate hearts.
They come to laundromats on opposite sides of town on Mondays and Tuesdays from 2 to 7 p.m. on the first and third weeks of the month. A prayer tent is also set up for anyone compelled to come to share their burdens — and many have shown up.
Hancock and Pleasant Grove church member Amy Strode are the heartbeat of the ministry although more than a dozen others have been part of it, too.
‘Collaboration of God’
Gospel conversations have been flowing like the water in the washing machines. Three people have given their hearts to Jesus and plenty of gospel seeds have been sown. Hancock and Strode are convinced this is what they are supposed to be doing.
“It was kind of a collaboration of God,” Hancock said. “When I became our missions director at church, I reached out to people. I talked to a lady who gives away clothes. They can get the clothes, but they can’t wash them. God laid the same idea on a woman’s heart at our church.”
Hancock and Strode began researching a laundry ministry and found several churches have tried it with varying success. One of the pitfalls came when the laundromats made them stop. “We were fearful of that happening, but the owner immediately said we could (share the gospel),” Hancock said.
The ministry started with them going to only one laundromat but expanded to a second one at the suggestion of the owner, who runs both businesses.
They reached out to city and county agencies that help those who may not have access to a washing machine or dryer and created a voucher system. They wash and dry as many loads as people will bring them. Some have brought in three or four loads of clothes at a time. One week, Hancock said, they spent more than $600 in quarters on washing machines. “It can get pretty packed. There are nights we had every machine in the mat going the whole time we were there.”
As word has spread, more and more are taking advantage of the ministry, she said. “We put soap in, put quarters in and try to minister to them while clothes are washing,” Hancock said.
Hancock and Strode provide a listening ear and those who come to get their clothes cleaned share heartbreaking stories. Sometimes burdened souls will go away cleansed.
“One of the gentlemen, in his second visit with us, as he was folding clothes, said the sinner’s prayer,” Hancock said. “We got him to come to church. He came and said, ‘Man, I need this.’”
Strode described a prayer tent moment that happened Monday. The woman said she came to the store to purchase a bag of chips but left spiritually satisfied after a gospel conversation.
“It was starting to get dark, and two gentlemen (volunteers) were out there (under the tent). I walked out initially to tell them probably take it down. About that time a car pulled up with hazard lights on. I can’t even tell you … this was a God thing. A mother and her son got out of the car, and she said she’d been praying all day. She said, ‘I’ve never seen a prayer tent in Owensboro my whole life. It has been a rough time lately for us and all of the sudden, your prayer tent is here.’’’
Strode spoke to the mother and the volunteers spoke to the boy. Both the mother and son came to faith in Christ.
“It just gave me chills,” Strode said. “That’s just one of the moments.”
Hancock said: “It’s two different ministries at one time. It’s mind-blowing to see what God will do when you put up a tent in the parking lot.”
Hancock said the gospel is starting to work on others including some repeat customers who are stunned by the kindness they have been shown.
“We do have some others taking a little bit longer,” she said. “It takes some time for them to open up. It is working. There are relationships formed and they learn how the church can help.”
About five or six from the church have been consistent in helping and another 10 others help when they can. Special offerings have given the ministry the money needed to keep the washing machines and dryers running.
“These past two days we ended up helping probably 35 individuals, not counting who those represented (other family members),” Strode said. “We have never limited the amount of laundry they bring in. Shannon and I both felt the call in this was not to limit that but help what was needed. So far, God has provided. It’s expensive to do laundry in the laundromat, as much as $50 to $70 depending on how many loads. For a lot of them it’s a choice of eating that week or not.”
In many cases, she said, they have washed clothes in a bathtub or sink, if at all. Those experiencing homelessness have been known to wash clothes in a toilet or sink in a public restroom.
“The more God placed this before us and made us aware, the more we felt the need to be able to do this mission,” Strode said. “I think the greatest lesson for me is it really hasn’t been about laundry. It’s all about relationships, meeting those people who have felt unseen and forgotten, that no one cared.”
Strode said the first “customer” they had in March — and the only one that month — was a retired missionary couple who were on limited income. “She still comes,” Strode said. “We got to speak with her. We love that was our first one.”
The women don’t have a timeline for completion of the mission. They plan on working it as God supplies the people who need help and the provisions to keep the ministry going.
“We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community,” Hancock said.