Paul and Karen Yuschak, senior pastor/co-pastor
StreetLight Church (Elizabeth Foursquare Church)
The start of Paul and Karen Yuschak’s ministry, the couple says, was a simple call to love those who did not know love, combined with a desire to see them succeed in life.
And so, in 1997, Paul and Karen (53 and 52, respectively) and their two daughters (now both in their 20s) started visiting the inner-city streets of Elizabeth, N.J., to care for the poor living there. But God soon made it clear that wasn’t enough—to take back the streets, He told them, they would have to walk them. And so, in 2004, the family left their comfortable suburban home and moved within blocks of the toughest projects in the city. It was a move that would forever change their lives, and the lives of many others.
The couple became pastors of a street church, which ultimately became StreetLight Church and now has approximately 100 members. With a simple goal of loving the people God placed in front of them, the congregation started caring for victims of poverty, homelessness, addiction and hopelessness due to tragic life circumstances. Four years later, in 2008, Paul and Karen launched StreetLight Mission, through which they have networked and formed alliances with city, county, state and regional agencies to help those in desperate need.
And help they have. The myriad of activities to reach hurting people includes a food pantry that provides groceries for 400 individuals and families each month; a clothing ministry that also offers toiletries and diapers (and even coats, boots and blankets in the frigid winter months); and recovery services that assist in placing people in programs to free them from addiction.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. The ministry also provides social services, helping men and women navigate welfare agencies and in job searches; judicial services, working with prosecutors to allow those arrested to access alternative recovery services in lieu of state prison; and health care services, increasing access via mobile cancer screening vans and visiting medical teams, and acting as a patient advocate in local medical services.
Not to mention, of course, addressing spiritual needs through StreetLight’s many Bible study and discipleship programs.
“We used to look at the problems people face like addiction, homelessness or joblessness and think if they just stopped using, or got a job, their problems would go away,” Paul told Foursquare.org. “After walking with them, we realized that their problems are much deeper than that.
“Most have been terribly broken by life,” he continues. “They have been beaten, abused, robbed and raped by those who were supposed to protect them. This abuse usually began as children and continued into all their relationships, marriages and then on to their own children. Healing and restoration will only come through the love of God.”
Paul can relate to the hurting, he says, because he has experienced desperation in his own life. He was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2003, which resulted in brain damage and the loss of his job as a project manager for a major pharmaceutical company.
“This allowed me to understand how those struggling from long-term drug use think and process information, as the damage done by the Lyme Disease was consistent with that of long-term heroin use,” he candidly shares.
Scores of lives have been turned around through the empathetic ministry of the Yuschaks and their congregation. A woman named Ivette is one of them. She walked into StreetLight Mission in tears, completely hopeless, having lost her job due to her nine-month-old daughter’s medical problems.
Even though a hospital in Philadelphia, two hours away, had agreed to perform a crucial surgery for her daughter, Sarina, Ivette had no way to pay for their transportation or overnight stay. She was desperate, not knowing what to do, burdened by the thought that Sarina was at risk of losing the use of her arm without the surgery.
Not only did StreetLight Mission provide a way for mother and daughter to get to the hospital, they secured a place for them to stay. They also prayed for healing—and indeed she was touched by God. The surgery, which was scheduled to last nine hours and was expected to include transplanting nerves from the girl’s legs to her arm, was done in four hours without the nerve transplants. Today Sarina is recovering, and the prognosis for full use of her arm is great.
“To be His hands, the body of Christ must get out of the church,” Karen asserts. “We must walk the streets God has given us and extend ourselves to those in need. The tangible things are needed, like clothes, food and a place to stay. However, it is the intangible things—like a listening, non-judgmental ear, a kind word and a safe hug—that minister the love of God.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles.