March 18th, 2012
For a week during the winter of 2012, Tom Keinath lived in a homeless encampment beneath Route 80 in Paterson.
Now, the people he spent a week with are finding a home at Calvary Temple International Assembly, the church on Preakness Avenue in Wayne where Keinath is minister.
The church has been busing in about two dozen homeless men, women and children from Paterson and other towns every Sunday for service.
On the Sunday of Rev. Keinath’s return from living on the streets, they stand in pews wearing ragged clothes and worshipped beside more fortunate attendees. During and after service, members welcome them back, happy to see them.
Church families even rotate cooking meals for the group every week.
“It is so rare to find anyone who is willing to do something like this once, never mind every week,” said Tom Wilke, who’s been coming to the church for a few weeks. “These people truly have a heart for those outside their walls.”
Keinath has ministered to homeless and drug-addicted individuals throughout his ministry. He started when he was teenager in college, when he said he would walk the streets and talk with anyone who would listen.
“I’ve always had a heart for people [who are hurting],” Keinath said. “People need to know, especially in today’s socio-economic climate, that they are loved and there’s hope.”
The church began ministering to the homeless of Paterson in 2012, when they went down to the Fourth Ward and passed out sandwiches, coats and blankets. It was through this that Keinath met the group of homeless men. He began meeting with them once a week for a few hours at a time.
“I realized very quickly that this wasn’t going to be episodic, so I said ‘Okay, I’ll spend one night under the bridge,’ but that wasn’t enough,” Keinath said. “I needed to really understand what they were going through if I was to connect with them and make a difference in their lives.”
With $5 in his pocket and the clothes on his back, Keinath went to live with the men under the bridge after Sunday service a few weeks ago. The church picked up him, and other men he met there, a week later. He preached that Sunday unshaven and smelling.
“I thought it was important to show everyone, not just the people who I met, but the entire congregation that God doesn’t care about our outward appearance,” Keinath said. “He cares about us on the inside.”
“We’re building relationships, that’s what this is really about,” said John Lusk, one of the volunteers who helps bring the attendees to Calvary. “It’s very difficult to have an impact on someone’s life by only meeting them once, but if we can meet them where they are, meet a need they have, and keep seeing them, that’s when things start to change.”
Ray Harris, a Westwood resident, takes two buses to get to where Calvary picks the people up in Paterson.
“Doing something like this just once a week helps a lot,” Harris said. “The end result is not having as stressful of a life as I once did. For people like me, you live your life day to day and you don’t really know what’s coming around the bend.”
Some of the men who come each week have enrolled in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Some of them used to attend church when they were younger, but drugs and the streets took away the desire to go.
Anthony Baglio Jr. is the first man Keinath met when the church began its outreach. He lived under the highway and introduced Keinath to other men who lived in the encampment, and has since enrolled in a drug-treatment program. He attended Calvary as a teenager but got involved with drugs and wound up on the street.
“It’s amazing to think that just a short time age, something like this wouldn’t have seemed possible, but here I am,” Baglio said. “It just proves that no one is beyond saving, no one can ever fall too far away from the church, or from God, and not be brought back.”
“We’re just meeting a need they have. It may be a physical need at first, food or clothes, but quickly it goes deeper,” Keinath said. “Once they see that we’re real and genuine in our concern for their physical well being, they start to ask use questions. The most common one is ‘Why are you doing this?’ We’re doing it because that’s what we’re called to do.”
The church ministers to the area’s lower-income population in other ways. It runs a food pantry and donates clothes to lower-income families. The church is currently making Easter baskets for young children.
Calvary is also in the midst of planning to build a Dream Center in Paterson, a non-profit facility that serves the needs of homeless and underprivileged people in the North Jersey area. Keinath said the facility would not only house a soup kitchen and provide individuals with temporary lodging, but also be a rescue center for human trafficking victims.
“There’s a sense of anticipation that we are about to launch into something bigger than we understand,” said Keinath.