by Tim Baker

On any given day or night, it is common to see a police cruiser or an ambulance sitting in the parking lot at Bethany Baptist Church, Salem, Oregon. The reason is simple: they had to.

Our city is spread out over many miles, and first responders are tasked with finding quiet places in the various parts of our town where they await the next emergency call. Our church parking lot has served that purpose well. Over the years we have made friends with these regular visitors, occasionally offering them coffee or a snack when a function is happening at the church.

This past fall our congregation embarked on an annual theme of “Serving Our City,” and the needs of these first responders were on our hearts. What if we could create a space on our church campus where we could serve these servants of our city?

From these initial thoughts came a plan to renovate an old portable classroom on our campus as a First Responders Lounge. This classroom was a surplus unit formerly owned by the local school district and has served as our youth group room since 2000. It was in rough shape, so we challenged our congregation to give $20,000 by the end of December to renovate the classroom into a comfortable lounge that our youth group and the first responders could share.

We rejoiced in God’s confirmation of these plans when the congregation provided the full $20,000, so the renovation work began. We planned new flooring, wall coverings, and a kitchenette and began getting bids to accomplish the work. Unfortunately, some of those bids were for more money than we had anticipated. But then an unexpected thing happened. It began when I asked my friend Brian Scott, manager of the local Home Depot, to see if the store sold prefabricated cabinets that would work for the church’s project. “You know, Pastor Tim,” Brian said, “our foundation would probably donate these materials free of charge if you asked.”

Really? After the church completed a few weeks of paperwork, a team of employees from Tim’s store showed up at Bethany Baptist Church and spent two days installing laminate flooring, cabinetry, and a kitchenette—all free of charge! The store’s donations did not go unnoticed around town, and within the next few months other local organizations partnered with us to provide furniture, signage, groceries, and cash.

By the time we dedicated the facility on March 18, the project’s cost had doubled to $40,000, half of which came from community partners.

Today Bethany Baptist Church’s neighborhood is a favorite for first responders to work in. Other than the church’s youth group meetings on Wednesday nights and classes on Sunday mornings, this space is in use up to 12 hours a day by local first responders. The room is a quiet and comfortable haven where they can rest, watch TV, grab some coffee and snacks, or warm up meals they brought with them.

As a result of making the room available, we have deepened our friendships with these servants and blessed them in the name of Christ as they serve our city. This past Sunday, one of the first responders and that person’s family visited our church!

Tim Baker is pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, Salem, Oregon.