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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

The Finest People are the Most Broken People

January 26, 2014

     "We made ourselves available in the corners and the crevices and the dark places in the middle of the night." That's how Matthew Barnett and 600 volunteers celebrated his 19th anniversary as the pastor of Bethel Temple in Los Angeles' Skid Row-and his work as founder of the Dream Center, which reaches more than 50,000 people each week through hundreds of ministries for the needy, lost and forgotten.

     Though Barnett initially considered throwing a party for his anniversary, he soon felt God calling him to perform 24 straight hours of service for the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes and anyone else who needed material help, a human touch and God's grace.

     During an interview on "Christopher Closeup" about his book "God's Dream for You: Finding Lasting Change in Jesus," Barnett discussed his first day at Bethel 19 years ago, when a teenage boy was murdered outside the church. Though he wasn't sure he could handle this type of environment, he said, "What kept me going was ministering to the family [of that boy]. We paid for the funeral, and we walked into their house and said, 'We're gonna make sure that we're there for you.'  After that day, there was no way I could ever quit."

     That commitment eventually led Barnett to take in a drug addict, then later, a homeless family. As the dream of helping others grew, Barnett noticed the now-closed Queen of Angels Hospital in Echo Park, which had been run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Though major entertainment companies wanted to buy the facility, the Archdiocese sold it to Barnett's church at a discount because he promised to make it a place of spiritual healing.

     Now named the Dream Center, the facility's website describes it as "a place to offer God's love to the homeless and addicted, to victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence, to emancipated foster youth and to those who hunger for food and hope."

     Barnett explained that he modeled the Dream Center's approach after Jesus's approach: "Jesus didn't say, 'When you believe, we'll let you belong.' He allowed people to belong first in order that they may believe. That's one of the great things that compassion does. It opens up the door where people begin to understand that we're gonna love them unconditionally, whether they receive the message of Christ or if they don't. But it gets hard not to believe when people have loved you so long and been so consistent in your life."

     Not being able to save everyone bothered Barnett early on, but time and experience resulted in hard-earned wisdom.

     He said, "I began to find that you can't let your heart be destroyed by the ones that fall on the wayside. You have to build upon something, and that's the success of the ones who do make it.60 percent of my staff are graduates of our Drug and Alcohol Rehab program. In our church, we've got ex-pimps, ex-murderers. And that's just the pastoral staff .When I started to see what God can do with these people, I began to realize that some of the finest people I've ever met are some of the most broken people I've ever met."

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, FROM SINNERS TO SAINTS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: