Christina is like so many other single mothers in Oklahoma these days. She is trying to carve out a good life for herself and her children, which includes 10-year-old twins.
Christina, however, has faced other challenges that many have not. Having been addicted to substances years ago, Christina found herself homeless and without work. Today, she now has a stable living situation, attends church each week and is back on her feet.
God brought about this transformation through a ministry called Heart and Hand Ministries, a non-profit organization founded in 1997 by then-pastor Steve Kern and leaders of Olivet Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Christina and her twins live in one of several apartment properties of Oklahoma City near Olivet, in the inner city. These properties are owned and operated by Heart and Hand.
The purpose statement of Heart and Hand is to meet “the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of homeless women and their children in the Oklahoma City area. The ministry provides families with crisis housing, including rent and utilities, as well as food, clothing, medical care, counseling, education, job training and job placement to lead them to spiritual and financial freedom and possible home ownership.”
Kern, who retired in 2019 from Olivet Baptist Church, shared how Heart and Hand got its start. “Years ago the Lord gave me and others a burden to reach people in our neighborhood with the love of Jesus,” he said.
Since its founding, Heart and Hand has ministered to some 1,400 children and mothers like Christina, who was recently baptized at Olivet.
The average length of stay of a mother is six months to two years, prior to the mother completing the Heart and Hand program and finding work.
The Heart and Hand property and ministry to mothers is overseen on a day-to-day basis by Kathy Pauwell, who was once a recipient of the ministry.
“Kathy does a remarkable job ministering to these mothers, helping them get back on her feet,” Kern said. “It’s a testament to what God can do, that she was once here as a resident and now serves here.”
The Heart and Hand properties include the Millie Bradley Complex, a group of four houses adjacent to each other. The complex was named in honor of Kern’s mother. Altogether, the properties can house and assist three to six families simultaneously.
Heart and Hand operates completely from donations made by individuals and churches to the ministry, as well as proceeds from the Heart & Hand Thrift Center located on Council Road and N.W. 23rd Street in Oklahoma City.
At this thrift center, which once was a grocery store, shoppers will find books, furniture, clothing, sports apparel and more. They also will notice the presence of the Lord on the faces of the staff and volunteers.
Since its establishment in 2003, the Heart & Hand Thrift Center has given 100 percent of its profits to aiding the single mothers ministry. Many employees and volunteers have found the thrift center to be a home away from home and even a mission field for some.
Valerie, a Heart and Hand volunteer, sees the impact of the thrift center firsthand, welcoming customers with a smile, saying “I love volunteering here.”
Kern and others have seen the provision and blessing of God in the thrift center, noting that more volunteers are now needed to continue the ministry of Heart and Hand.
Through people donating items to the thrift center, volunteering, offering financial and prayer support, Kern is hopeful that the Lord will continue to make the ministry flourish.
Through the ministry flourishing, other single mothers facing homelessness, like Christina, can be back up on their feet. The flourishing will allow these women to see the love of Jesus from Christians who are serving with their hearts and hands.
To find out more, contact Heart and Hand at 405-470-0431.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written and originally published by Oklahoma’s the Baptist Messenger.