Once Upon a Time…
Here, in her own words, is a brief overview of that time.
“Every opportunity I had, I visited the Fresno Rescue Mission, and saw both men and women in the service. What bothered me was, after the evening services and meals, the men were given lodging, but the women were turned out on the street. ‘Sorry no place for women.’”
“I told the Lord that I’d do anything if the mission could open a shelter for women, but one door after the other closed and it became a real burden to my heart. The Lord started speaking to my heart about it and I said, “Oh no, Lord, not me. I don’t have the ability. I had nothing to offer. It dawned on me He didn’t want what I had. He was going to give me what He had. It wasn’t ability. It was availability. Was I available? I told the Lord, ‘Yes.’”
Later Pauline told her husband, George Baker, about her conversations with the Lord, fully expecting a bombshell and not much support. However, George surprised her with these words: “It’s about time. They have homes for orphan children, cats and dogs, and horses and men, and no place for women.”
Once she had George’s support there was no stopping Pauline and her band of men and women dedicated to opening a shelter for women and children. Yet before they could begin, a tragedy happened that would have discouraged anyone of less faith to turn back.
After telling the Lord she was available, getting her husband’s support, and doing all the legal and leg work Pauline turned her attention to finding a building.
On Labor Day of 1954, George, his brother and another man decided to take a break from their Evangel Home work and go fishing at the coast. Pauline didn’t want them to go, but she said, “He had a date with destiny. When he left that evening I was standing at the sink. As he left I looked out and waved. I had the strangest feeling I would never see him again.”
Sadly she was right. The men’s boat capsized and they were all lost. As Pauline dealt with this, she once again had a conversation with God. “Lord, if this work (Evangel Home) is of Thee, give me my husband’s body.”
His body was returned and shortly thereafter Pauline and others were back at work on a ministry that would soon begin to rescue the lives of women and children from the streets of Fresno. Some tried to discourage her from going ahead with her plans, but Pauline said, “I put my hand to the plow and I’m not going to turn back because God said if we do, we are not worthy to be called his disciples.” Over 50 years later, we still have our hands on the plow.
Merabelle Eitzen guided Evangel Home from 1970 until her unexpected death in the fall of 1987. Merabelle left a long-reaching legacy of love, and she affected the lives of hundreds of women and children.She came to Evangel Home at nearly the same time the current Crisis Shelter was completed. Merabelle saw that women needed more than a short stay in the shelter, and she began to pray and dream about acquiring the apartments to our immediate south. Her prayers were answered. The apartments were purchased and in 1985 she founded our CrossRoads Program.
Merabelle had a deep passion to win women to the Lord. She was also concerned that there was not enough attention being given to homeless women at a national level. With her determination, vision and persistence The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions founded a Women’s Track. This brought attention and expertise to many women’s issues.
Merabelle Eitzen left an indelible mark on the ministry of Evangel Home. Greater though is the impression she left on the lives of those women and children she loved so dearly.
Gerre Brenneman took over the leadership reins in 1988. “I felt very unprepared at first, but then realized
God called me to Evangel Home – not just for me to lead it, but for Him to lead me.”Gerre’s tenur
e has given her time to steward the ministry to additional programs, property, and personnel. However, the focus still remains on the individual woman and child. It is their relationship with Jesus Christ that matters more than any other measure of growth.
The Evangel Home’s unofficial mascot is a hedgehog. That little creature is symbolic of the ministry because it knows what’s important and sticks to it. The hedgehog’s entire life is guided by her search for food and the need to keep her “home” together. The Evangel Home’s one guiding principle is Christ Leads, People Care, Lives Change. That’s something Pauline, Merabelle, and Gerre have each believed.
Evangel Home opened as a “Home for Needy Women and Children”. It started in a renovated boarding house and its first resident was an alcoholic woman.
We completed work and moved to a new building which today serves as our emergency shelter. We provide shelter, food, clothing and counseling for up to 24 women and children.
We purchased a 17-unit apartment complex to our immediate south and Psalm 16:1 Plaque established one of the first transitional living centers in the country for women and children. We currently use 13 apartments for women who are accepted from the emergency shelter into our CrossRoads living skills and discipleship program.
We established Community Connection, a graduate program allowing our women to stay up to 12 months after completing our CrossRoads or GARDEN programs. To continue in this phase, they must be working or attending school full-time and serve as role models to our other residents.
We purchased and renovated a house to our immediate north and established our GARDEN program. This program has been developed as a New Covenant Church volunteers alternative to jail or prison and can serve up to six women. GARDEN stands for God Answers, Redeems, and Delivers Everyone who draws Near to Him.
New Covenant Church completes an Extreme Makeover in 53 days on the grand old house at 161 N. Yosemite. GARDEN program moves to 161 and 145 N. Yosemite becomes our Education and Conference Center. Backyard at 145 serves as recreation and play area for crisis home women and children.
101 N. Yosemite becomes part of Evangel Home’s ministry. It is being used as a counseling center for our residents. It has also freed up housing in Evangel Home counseling center other parts of the campus so more women and children can be served.
Each new program has come after a need has been recognized and bathed in prayer, sometimes for years. We see many needs, but which ones are in God’s vision for Evangel Home? Our hand is still on the plow and we can’t wait to see what soil is next to be tilled.