(Photo: Frank Brown)
Christian ministry leader Dawn Martinez was told she could no longer hold the twice-a-week Bible studies she has taught for homeless people for the last two years inside a McDonald's in Camden, N.J. A night manager at the fast food restaurant told her last week that a customer had filed a complaint. Martinez wonders if it could have been because of the topic briefly discussed at one point last Monday – the Muslim faith.
The 33-year-old, who began the ministry to transients and drug addicts two years ago, describes the Bible study group's last meeting on Monday.
"It was a very powerful night. We had one woman join our prayer circle at the table and she was weeping and crying, but that was nothing unusual for our meetings," Martinez told The Christian Post. "I gave the Bible study. We talked about Isaac and Ishmael. I began to give the history on the descendants of Ishmael and the differences between the Christian and the Muslim faiths because the Muslim faith believes the descendants of Ishmael are the chosen people.
"It was real brief and nothing unusual happened. We had the Bible study. We prayed and we left."
On Wednesday, Martinez was told the bad news by the manager right as the small group was about to sit down at the table.
"She was really nice about it but she says, 'I know that you have been giving Bible studies for a long time but we've had a complaint.' She didn't tell me what happened, but she said there was a complaint and that we cannot have our Bible studies there anymore," she explained.
Martinez asked the manager for the reason the meetings were no longer acceptable at that McDonaId's restaurant.
"She said, 'Well you are a Christian and there's other people of other faiths and so people are getting offended.' She said, 'I'm really sorry, but that's just the way it is.' I had to cancel the Bible study."
Martinez said she believes someone of Islamic faith was there Monday evening and may have been offended enough to make a complaint.
"But 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. "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."
She added, "I do know that God is in control of all things and if this is a door that God wants to close, I mean this is His ministry. I've never asked to be there in the first place. I'm still praying and I have strong faith that God's will is going to be done."
This coming Monday, Martinez plans to show up at McDonald's to make sure her regular attendees know what is going on, and if necessary meet at a local park. McDonald's was not contacted for this story because Martinez still hopes to get answers from the restaurant's management.
Martinez, who lives in a neighboring city, said she started her ministry by first giving out Bible tracts to the homeless in Camden, a city known for its high homelessness and crime rates.
"I was always checking on the homeless every day. I was really desperate to reach them for Christ," she said. She had asked people at her church to join her in ministering to the homeless, but no one responded. However, she was encouraged by a pastor to follow her heart.
One night she ran into a man she had previously given a devotional booklet to and he asked her if they could discuss the scripture inside.
"We read it together and I broke it down. Before you know it, a group started, not right away, but little by little more homeless people and people from the streets of Camden would come around," she said. "We would end up on these benches and just start talking about these devotionals."
As the meetings continued into the fall and winter seasons, the meetings moved indoors.
"It was starting to get cold. It started to rain one night so we decided to go into the McDonald's which is nearby to get some coffee. This little group of ours said, 'Hey, let's break out the devotional booklet.' So, we just began to read it to each other and talk."
One of the night managers at McDonald's was friendly to the group of homeless people who attended, Martinez explained. In the early days of the ministry, the Bible studies at McDonald's were held three nights per week.
"Before we knew it the night managers started to look forward to us being there. They would spread the word, telling others, 'Hey, they have church here,'" she said. "I never would have thought that I would give others a Bible study in a McDonald's of all places, but I knew it was God's will. It just happened that way."
Martinez added, "I love the fact that it's open and you never know what to expect. Sometimes I'm thinking it's not going anywhere. We have our good days and our bad days. But God would bring people from all over. People next to us at tables would hear something and ask me questions. Then they would end up at the table and we would end up praying."
She is not sure about how to proceed with her ministry now that they're not allowed to gather in their regular meeting place.
"I'm not really sure what's going to happen when they stop seeing me there and how to get the word out because they are not like us. They do not have phones. They just know to go to McDonald's because Dawn is going to be there," she lamented. "I do know that I want to step up my evangelism, but I do not want to abandon them either. I'm going to be praying about it. I am going to show up on Monday and Wednesday even if I have to meet outside McDonald's and we have to take it to the park or something, but I am not going to let them down."
Correction: Sunday, July 15, 2012:
An article on July 15, 2012, about a Bible study for homeless people at a McDonald's location incorrectly reported that the restaurant is in Camden, Pa. The restaurant is in Camden, N.J.