Search for a Church to Battle the Winter in Hopes for Future Ministry

Nov 16, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Diane Dunne, the president of "Hope for the Future Ministries" continues on her mission to feed the poor for more than a decade. She is threatened by those she helps, and ignored by Christians, however, they do no hinder her resolution to take the gospel to the sidewalks of New York.

"We have church without walls," she says of her Hope for the Future Ministries. The unconventional church last year served 100,000 hot meals and distributed 300,000 bags of groceries. "Most people we deal with have given up on man and God," Dunne commented.

"People love her a lot," says Anna, one of around 300 people who gathered for a typical sidewalk service on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Another participant said, "It's not so much because they are getting something. It's because she cares enough to come and do it."

Dunne began the ministry in 1987, after an encounter with a homeless woman in the city's Tompkins Square Park. Since then, returned to the park regularly to give sandwiches to the squatters who lived there. She began feeding from a pushcart .

"I would clean construction sites to raise money to buy food," she said. Connections to donated food supplies followed. She runs her ministry with only three full-time staffers. She has help from an army of volunteers, who pick up, sort and prepare tons of food for the four weekly outreaches she organizes.

While in her ministry, she has been punched, cursed and had plates of food thrown at her. She even came across a man who tried to stab her.

She conducts more funerals than weddings. "I bury a lot of people," she says. Seniors die of old age and cancer. The homeless die of illnesses spawned by AIDS, drug overdoses, and pneumonia and tuberculosis in the winter.

Dunne speaks of the hardship of raising funds as a single woman. "Doors don't open to speak or raising money because I'm a woman," she says. "If you're a woman, you've got to work twice as hard in the body of Christ."

Her greatest discouragement comes from her organization's lack of a permanent church building. As she watched seniors in wintertime freezing while they wait in line for their grocery bags, she resolved to rent a church space. However, most pastors turned her down, one going so far as to tell her, "I don't want those kind of people in my building." Another church denied her request to store chairs.

Dunne's goal is to get a building for worship services, food distribution, literacy training, youth ministry, and senior center. Since the going rate for a building in Manhattan is $1 million, she said, "I need a miracle. We need a building because you can do a lot more with people in a building than you can do outside." She added, "My greatest satisfaction is when I see someone come to Jesus and their life is totally turned around. It gives me the courage to go on."

By Pauline J.