BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A few years ago, David and Tonya Holt were in the grip of demons – alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. At least they were in good company. On Beardsley Avenue, the southernmost street in Oildale, it was epidemic. Still is.
That’s what inspired a preacher by the name of Ben Hanna to open the Church Without Walls in 2006 – to give people struggling with those issues a place to go for sustenance in every sense – physical, emotional, spiritual.
David Holt was one of those needy souls.
“They would preach over here by the market and people would have their beers on the side, drinking and listening and hearing God’s word,” Holt said. “Pretty soon they’re more involved, and they don’t have their beer anymore.”
Now that Hanna has semi-retired and moved away, the Holts run the operation. And the need, they say, is ongoing.
“These people are struggling with mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, and poverty,” he said. “The more blatant struggles that are on the surface. It’s amazing the transformation you see take place when you encourage them a little bit and show them love. Remember their name. Smiles from ear to ear.”
Every Thursday a physician from Clinica Sierra Vista visits to conduct free health screenings. Flood Ministries, which helps people navigate homelessness, is here that day too. Every third Thursday a dentist and a veterinarian are in the house.
“We serve as a hub and a liaison for other organizations to come out because we have weekly contact with this community,” Holt said.
“Penny Whittington, the assistant pastor, said the Oildale ministry is a unique one.
“We are actually a mission, we’re not a church,” she said. “I believe we’re a mission, we’re called into an area, that the culture is totally different from what might be the mainstream out there. We are in a totally different country. And it’s very cool.
“And,” she said, laughing as she looked skyward, “we have the flight path right above us which is also very very cool.”
But Church Without Walls needs some permanence. Nothing with walls of course. That would ruin the vibe. But a carport-type structure with a permanent roof would be a game changer. The existing open-sided canopy must be broken down and changed every six months and re-permitted. Its tie-downs are a danger.
And without a building permit to obtain electricity, church services must be powered by generator. A carport with a roof, permanent restrooms and a new sewer line, would be huge. So would new, permanent showers.
“Those will have walls,” Holt said, laughing.
All they need to make it happen is $311,700. That’s the bid from Pyramid Construction.
Assistant Pastor Tonya Holt says the church’s name – its distinctive feature – is part of its message.
“Church Without Walls is not just the fact that we don’t have building walls,’ she said. “It’s also the fact that we are a church that’s transparent. Because we cannot progress in a world of illusion.”
Eloise Sanchez, at the church to happily receive a new backpack and a shower, said many who would otherwise have few options benefit most
“It’s a blessing,” she said. “I thank God that Church Without Walls helps us out.”
Church Without Walls is looking for new showers, new restrooms and a little more permanence. If you’d like to help, visit ChurchWithoutWallsOildale.org and look for the “donate now” button.