Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. - Hebrews 13:2
Patti and Kris are the women behind Encouragement Ministries – an endeavor that is equal parts detective work, prayer and paying it forward.
The ministry was birthed out of equal parts tragedy and love.
Kris’ husband left her years ago, in part because of her faith. He remarried and subsequently took his own life.
Patti’s husband died of cancer in 1996. She was raising two children on her own when she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer in 2006. She was working as a para-educator for Central Valley Schools, going through chemotherapy, and as it happens, taking care of Kris’ mom as a home health aide.
On top of that, the two women buried three parents in a span of less than eighteen months.
“We’ve both been in such broken parts of our lives that you can’t sit and judge somebody,” Kris said. “They look broken. Well, we were broken. We were hopeless at times…God has opened our eyes to see things through the eyes of Christ, and it’s been something I treasure daily.”
Paying It Forward
Patti described what they do as “paying it forward.”
“Kris and I both – and this is the one thing that we have in common – we have had some tough times in our lives, with our children, being single or widowed. We had the opportunity to receive back then. Kris came into my life, and I came into someone else’s life and helped them.
"It was a matter of paying it forward which is so important to both of us. We were down and out, and it was so important that someone was there to pick us up and catch us, and we were determined that we would do it for other people because it was so important to us.
“I had some wonderful people – my family, my kids, Kris – there for me. Just pumping me up, helping me get through it. People dropping off meals and gifts, and it was just so touching to me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pull through and make it… Kind words, a hat, meals – along with the grace of God – pulled me through.”
As a result of their own suffering, both ladies have highly sensitive radar to people in need. “We kind of investigate,” Patti said. “We’re kind of like spies. We just listen and we pray, and God’s leading, of course, steers us into the right place at the right time. We’ll be at work or church or the neighbor of a neighbor of a neighbor, and it just all comes together, where, Gee, did you know that she was down on her luck and can’t pay her hospital bill? And it would be somebody who was a friend of a friend, and that was how we did it.
“And so, we would pray about it – Kris and I – and then we would go ahead and make that decision and pray about the amount and then head in and wipe off the hospital bill or the Avista bill….We’re sneaky.”
Their connection to Union Gospel Mission goes way back – to Kris’ dad.
“My dad used to go down to the old UGM. It must have been the ’70s. He would take his guitar and go down and pray with the guys. Then he would go to church and say, ‘Why aren’t you out meeting these people? You’re in the heart of the city?’ But they wouldn’t listen to him. But I remember that heart cry.”
Nudges from God
Then Kris had a couple of experiences that she can’t really explain. First, a friend who was losing her house gave Kris a bunch of beautiful stuffed bears. Kris immediately thought of the Women’s Recovery Program at Anna Ogden Hall. Somehow, that initial thought of donating bears turned into a huge Christmas party for the women and their children.
“We still don’t know how it happened, but God led us and the community responded so much that my mother’s house, which had been empty because she had been put in a facility…Well, we filled one bedroom and closet with all the clothes given, another bedroom and closet with all the toys given. The front room was full with 65 baskets…The whole thing is so miraculous!”
The other incident happened as she was driving downtown.
“I came down Third Street, got to Division. I had to turn left. I saw a guy on the corner there, and I thought, well, if the light turns, I’ll talk to him. He was just a skinny, filthy, little guy, and I said something about Jesus, and I said, ‘Here’s some money,’ but that was the corner my dad had cried about – virtually – and as I did, this little, skinny guy was yelling, ‘Bless you, lady! Bless you! Bless you!’ and just going wild. And I started weeping. I cried from there to Newman Lake.”
You ache for them. And that’s a high point.”
Last Christmas, Kris and Patti brought gifts and gift cards for all the residents at the Men’s Shelter. Kris said the guys were helping unload her car when one of them walked up to them and said, “Can I hug you?” Then Kris said, “Guys, you know what? God put something on my heart. Let’s take hands and let’s pray right now.”
“And I just started weeping...God has opened our eyes to see things through the eyes of Christ, and it’s been something I treasure daily. You ache for them. And that’s a high point.”
Patti said the whole point of Encouragement Ministries is to communicate: “You’re not alone. God’s going to be there to catch you when you fall, and if you can be there to catch somebody else when they fall, then that’s just twice as rewarding.”
Not sure what to do when you see someone on a street corner with a sign? Here are some tips.