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Theology Club Participates in Oakland Street Ministry

David Ranzolin, July 2, 2009
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Every week the Oakland Grand Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church engages the community with a street ministry of healing. Led by church member Milton Hare, the ministry seeks out the needy and marginalized. The Pacific Union College Theology Club recently heard about Hare's work and decided to get involved. After their first trip to Oakland last May, senior theology major and club president William Wheeler pledged the club's continued involvement in the future. "As theology majors, our ministry starts now, not on graduation day," he says. "Milton's ministry is a perfect opportunity because it gives us a chance not only to further our ministry, but also to learn first hand how exceptional street ministry is done."

The day before the ministry sets out, church members and volunteers pack around 250 lunches and gather donated clothes, blankets and basic hygiene kits. The following evening they pile into vans and distribute everything. The group drives through the streets, offering supplies to everyone they encounter. Oftentimes the group will pray with the people. It is in this way that the church builds community outside of the church construct and congregation. Many of the PUC students who went last May were amazed by Hare's ability to connect and fellowship with the people. "Milton knows everyone by name," Wheeler says. "They love Milton; he is their friend." The ministry typically ends around 9:30 p.m.

Students who participated also marveled at the spirituality and steadfast perseverance of the people. "They are some of the most spiritual people you will ever meet," Wheeler says. "Although outwardly crushed, they are inwardly joyful."

Wheeler is convinced of the mystical and spiritual significance of street ministry. "When you pass out a lunch to a homeless person, you are really passing out a lunch to Jesus Christ," he explains. "We serve a God who is deeply concerned with justice and compassion. How can these qualities not spill over into our lives? We are called to be filled with these things, just as He is."

Hare, who studied at PUC before transferring to UC Berkeley, received an honorary doctorate from PUC on graduation weekend this year, in recognition of his ministry and what religion professor Leo Ranzolin calls an "exemplary and remarkable life of service."