(Photo: Jesus House/Rick Denny)
For 40 years Jesus House, a nondenominational Christian outreach organization, has been transforming the lives of those battling addiction, suffering from mental illness, or facing the perils of homelessness and poverty. More than a shelter, Jesus House is a hub of community support that transforms the lives of their residents, as well as the tens of thousands of people who depend on the work of Jesus House volunteers who seek out the needs of the community.
Early in the morning, before the sun peeks over the horizon, Jesus House volunteers in Oklahoma City, Okla., are fast at work preparing 100,000 meals a year to feed the homeless. Many provide aid to homebound senior citizens by repairing pipes, mowing lawns, building fences, and providing grocery baskets and bottled water, along with prayers for their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Rick Denny, who's been the director of Jesus House since 2011, is often invited to churches across the state of Oklahoma to speak about the impactful work the organization's staff and volunteers are doing to improve the lives of those who are living at the shelter, as well as the services they provide in their community. But one thing he has always wanted to bring along with him to churches and civic organizations is a house choir.
Three months ago, Robin Totten, volunteer coordinator at Jesus House, was able to bring Denny's dream to life. Totten is using her vocal talents and expertise to prepare the choir, called "Reaching Out," for their debut performance on May 18 at the annual Jesus House block party.
"People have an image about the homeless and a homeless facility," said Totten, who believes the 12-person choir will not only showcase people's talents and abilities, but also serve as a "reflection of God's grace and a representation of the positive impact Jesus House has on people's lives."
Totten told CP on Monday that the choir will be singing "Jesus at the Center" and possibly even "Amazing Grace" and "Lean on Me," a song that exemplifies the support the choir members receive from each other, and one they sing after rehearsals.
"They're all here for each other at the house," she added.
According to Totten, the residents who live at Jesus House are "everyday people who were impacted by bad choices or bad circumstances … people God loves." And the choir is an expression of the experiences people are working through.
"It's awesome how God has put this in place," she said. "The choir helps to build self-esteem, helps them work through situations. Jesus House residents have suffered loss, and have experienced destruction. We live in the real world every day here – and the choir gives people hope. You can't get very far without hope."
Mia Stevens, a member of the choir who once auditioned for "American Idol," said her goal is to help those who need to know that God loves them, and to know that they can transform their lives.
"We just want to be an influence on other people in recovery, or just anybody else, to see that no matter what your past has been like, no matter what you've been through, you still have a talent for God. God sees the good in you, and this is our time to give that glory and encourage other people," Stevens said during an interview with The Oklahoman.
Even though Jesus House is situated on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, Totten said she's in awe of the number of volunteers from surrounding states who want to participate in the work Jesus House is doing in the community. She told CP they have volunteer groups from Arkansas and Texas who keep coming back to lend their support.
With support from Totten, Jesus House choir members, and David Flores, a faculty member at Oklahoma City's Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College – whom Totten says is a "blessing" for helping to coach and fine tune the choir in preparation for their debut – Denny's desire for a choir, a program that will help people to get back into life, has come to fruition.
You can learn more about Jesus House by clicking here.