Thirteen years ago, Pastor Bruce Deel was sent to an inner city church in Atlanta to close it up and sell the property. The church was in a bad neighborhood and attendance had slipped precariously, but to his surprise, a stream of drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, homeless, and ex-prisoners began to flock in and fill up the church. So Pastor Bruce, his wife and five daughters moved in to the third floor and for six years, they ministered to the community – despite 3 stolen vehicles, 34 break-ins and a circle of foster children and homeless adults with whom they shared their space.
“We just loved it,” Bruce Deel says in perfect sincerity, “but we needed more room to do what we wanted to do in outreach to the community.” Four miles away, in the Bluff neighborhood which was even more dangerous than the one the family lived in – with crack houses, violence and the highest poverty rate (33%) in the state of Georgia, Pastor Deel found a new home for his City of Refuge – an 8-acre warehouse complex that he has transformed into – well, a refuge.
What began as a simple ministry to help a few children has expanded into a beautiful crusade to help the kids, their mothers, grandmothers, aunties, homeless neighbors, drug addicts down the street, felons getting out of jail and struggling to find jobs – in short, the Deels were called to lift up the entire community, and that’s exactly what they set out to do.
In seven years, City of Refuge has built out 120,000 square feet and brought five acres under roof to provide everything you can think of to ease the lives of people in crisis: from daycare to after school programs and summer camps, food boxes and clothing to mental health services and addiction programs, vegetable gardens and trash pickups to vaccination campaigns.
In the aptly named Eden Village, 232 beds for homeless women and children comprise a beautiful, calm oasis of safety where the women are given an individualized plan of all-day training, life skills and finance classes, while their children attend daycare, are given 3 healthy meals a day, and go to school. The program has a phenomenal 82% success rate of women getting jobs and moving into permanent supportive housing.
In the 180 Degree Kitchen, groups of trainees (mostly ex-felons and addicts) take a 10-week course under the professional auspices of Chef Alex Cook, to learn culinary arts skills that can lead to jobs with COR restaurant partners around the city, as well as catering.
And the latest capital campaign is underway to build a 16,000 square foot health care facility to expand on the free clinic started by Harvard-educated Dr. Charles Moore, a head and neck specialist from Emory/Grady.
It’s been a remarkable journey: in 2009 alone, City of Refuge provided services for 10,000 people in need at a cost of just $2 million – one of the true economic miracles that faith-based communities are providing in a time of ever-increasing need and ever-shrinking state budgets.
City of Refuge has even more big plans for its community and a relentless faith that it is in taking care of each other that we find our true purpose and joy. To join me in donating to this incredible organization, click here!