The family of the truck driver from New York who had a stroke. A father from Saudi Arabia who had a heart attack while flying over Montgomery. Another family who drove from Iowa after relatives had a car accident on their way to the beach. They were all strangers to the Montgomery area, but all shown grace and a place to rest their heads at night through the Samaritan Inn Ministry. The temporary lodging ministry allows family members who travel from outside of the River Region to visit and care for individuals needing extended medical care in an area medical facility.
For Debbie Jones, who oversees the ministry, Samaritan Inn is about showing the love of Jesus to strangers. They may or may not know Jesus, she said, but feels it is “our responsibility to be there for them, even if it’s just to show our love of Him and let them be able to see the light that He provides.
“I just don’t want any strangers who are having a medical issue to not have somebody there to walk them through their journey,” she said. “I just never want to have to turn a family away.”
Assistance through the ministry is based on need, and families can be assisted with the cost of a hotel for short-term stays, and homes that can host families for long-term needs. During their stay, families can receive meals, gas cards, plus spiritual and emotional care.
Samaritan Inn Ministry is part of the MBA Community Ministries, a faith-based community outreach arm of Montgomery Baptist Association, which has more than 400 volunteer missionaries.
MBACM serves the disadvantaged with compassion-based services and programs while building bridges across racial, socio-economic, and spiritual barriers. They work to empower individuals to build self-reliance with dignity, helping them achieve life-long stability. These Gospel-centered ministries work to meet human need and plant Gospel seed, according to their website.
Funding for Samaritan Inn Ministry is made possible through private donations, as well as through churches and Sunday School classes.
Jones said, very often, families who have received help through the Samaritan Inn find ways to give back through financial contributions as a way to help support the ministry. Also, “once a year, we have a fundraiser banquet, and invite families from past years to come back and share their stories.”
Samaritan Inn Ministry only reaches out to families who are from out of town. The ministry works closely with medical facilities including the Montgomery Cancer Center and a children’s specialty center connected to St. Jude’s.
“We’ve helped families around the world,” Jones said. “Chaplains and caseworkers are the ones who call me with referrals, and we see if they qualify. I take them a goodie bag to let them know someone cares and is praying for them. People come here, and 90 percent of the time they don’t know anyone and are scared and concerned. We’re here to be the feet and hands of Christ. We need to make that face-to-face contact and build a relationship and be there for them.”
While the ministry partners with area hotels on discounted rates – with Samaritan Inn funding the remaining balance – there’s no limit to how long families can stay in the houses they have available. The longest stay has been six months. The shortest, six days.
Houses through the ministry have been donated, as well as the furniture in them.
“I wanted it to be a place of comfort and rest,” Jones said. “If they’re going to be here more than two weeks, and one of our properties is available, I ask if they’re interested in staying.
“When you tell people you have a place for them to stay, you want to make sure it is a place they would be comfortable staying. This past April, we finished the third property. Families don’t share a home. I tried that once, and it doesn’t work.”
The ministry lives off Matthew 25:36 – “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
And Jones adds to that her own favorite verse, Matthew 5:16 – “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Samaritan Inn Ministry was the vision of Maryann Wilson wanting to be able to reach out to families, Jones said. She continues serving, along with her husband, Skip Wilson, as strong volunteers in the ministry.
Jones is entering her 11th year with Samaritan Inn. A former schoolteacher, she says, “God has always kind of knocked me upside the head. I love serving people. And that’s all I’m doing.
“When I started, we had one hotel. As of today, we have six hotels working with us in Montgomery. I don’t put families in the Prattville or Wetumpka area because we’re based in Montgomery.”
Since Jones began working with the ministry, she said more than $12,000 has been saved by families staying in their homes versus paying hotel bills. From 2010 to 2020, more than 1,400 families have been helped.
“Our homes are rarely empty,” she said. “We usually have a waiting list. We offer emotional and spiritual support. When they have other needs, we help as best we can. We have two restaurants that give us gift cards. Eating out three times a day and gas…it’s so much to handle. They need gas cards. We can always use gas cards and restaurant cards. They don’t have to be fancy restaurants. As they tell me, every little bit helps.”
Those helped include a couple from New York named Joe and Shelley. They stayed in Montgomery for nearly five months and it was the first time Jones had been part of experiencing a profession of faith made by a family.
“Joe was a typical New Yorker,” she said. “He didn’t understand the hospitality. Joe would call me late at night, questioning this and that. I poured scripture after scripture after scripture into him. He asked if he could attend Easter Sunday with us, and after that, he was in church every Sunday.
“They both ended up giving their professions of faith. I know it has happened with some families who have left, but to be as much a part of that one gets to me because this is what Samaritan Inn is about. They were both baptized at Taylor Road Baptist Church.”
When thinking of Samaritan Inn Ministry, Jones thinks back to when she said her child was a youth pastor traveling through Pennsylvania and broke his collar bone.
“I say, just close your eyes and think of your child, or grandchild, or spouse getting really ill. Would you want somebody to be there for them? We’re just doing this all for the glory of God, and we give Him the praise all the time. This is His ministry, His families, and His homes.”
Want to help?
The Samaritan Inn Ministry needs volunteers to pray with families, stay in touch with them while they’re in Montgomery, and provide homecooked meals.
To volunteer, or for more information about the ministry and how to donate, contact Debbie Jones at (334) 201-6868 (she answers calls 24/7) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on the Montgomery Baptist Association and the ministries they support, visit https://mgmbaptists.org/.
Kym Klass is a contributing writer and Communications Director of the Media Ministry at Frazer Church in Montgomery.