(Photo: Frank Brown)
A New Jersey Bible study leader still wonders why her two-year-old ministry of teaching the Gospel to a small group of homeless and drug addicted people inside a McDonald's is no longer welcomed after confirming the shutdown with the restaurant's manager Tuesday.
Dawn Martinez, 33, was first told last Wednesday by a night manager at a McDonald's in Camden that the reason for her notice was because someone filed a complaint. Martinez told The Christian Post on Monday that when asked for a further explanation the manager said, "Well you are a Christian and there's other people of other faiths and so people are getting offended."
Martinez said she felt the complaint was prompted by someone from "the Islamic faith" listening in on their brief discussion about the Muslim religion at the previous study.
"Usually when there are Muslims there they will take it upon themselves to ask me questions or to give me their viewpoint, but this is the first time that I know that someone has made a complaint," she said during the interview on Monday. "I believe that's the only explanation that makes sense to me right now. It could have been the praying, but I've been there two years and I've never changed anything. I really don't know any other reason."
In an email response from Ed Baim, franchise owner of the Camden McDonald's, to questions by CP, Baim stated that the "content of this group's meetings had absolutely nothing to do with their being asked to move their meetings from the premises. In fact, there have been times when other groups have also been asked to move their gatherings, including those who play cards and board games."
Baim's statement began, "As a restaurant owner, my job is to make sure my customers feel welcome and can have a good meal in a pleasant environment..."
"Because this restaurant has a smaller seating area, we have signs posted notifying customers that there is no loitering and that the seating area is for our customers only, with a 30-minute limit," he explained. "While we're not able to accommodate groups, these folks are always welcome to visit the restaurant as customers."
The question as to why the restaurant decided to enforce the policy after the Bible study was allowed to go on for two years has not been answered. Baim was not able to respond to CP's follow-up question by press time.
After reading Baim's statement, Martinez said in an exclusive interview with CP on Tuesday that she is unclear about the reason for the shutdown. "One of things that I don't understand, is the differences in their stories," she said. "I was first told it was because of a complaint and that I had offended someone of another religious faith. I still wonder if it was what I was teaching. Why else would the night manager make that statement?"
Nevertheless, Martinez said she is ready to move on and does not want the action by the restaurant to be a "McDonald's battle."
"I have nothing personal against McDonald's. My concern is for the homeless and the others that have depended on me to be there for the past two years," she said. "They are what this is about to me. Finding a place they can feel comfortable to meet with me, to hear God's word and to be encouraged that they are not alone."
Martinez said that the average number of people attending the Bible studies she led at McDonald's was between two to five people with customers from other tables sometimes joining in for discussion and prayer.
In regards to Baim's statement that Martinez' group is "always welcome to visit the restaurant as customers," she said that food or drinks were always purchased by herself and sometimes from those attending over the last two years.
"Typically I would offer [those attending her group] coffee and a soda, and if funds permitted I would buy them food. Not all of the people in the group are homeless and we try to take care of each other," she explained. "Most of the homeless people had panhandled that day and were able to purchase something to get at the McDonald's. Also, they usually had to purchase something to use the restrooms."
She added, "It's not like I was bringing the homeless to McDonald's. They are usually already there."
Martinez said she is still praying for a new location after meeting with her Bible study group on Monday evening outside at a nearby park.
"Our options for now seem few but I am sure God will make a way. We are going to stick together and I know it will be alright," she said. "I have a peace about this now."