Photo by Gary Goodsell
Patrick McNeal didn’t plan to run a homeless shelter after getting master’s degrees in divinity and education.
“I was going to get my doctorate in education; become a highfalutin, upper-level VP at some college or university; and then preach on the side,” McNeal said.
But his plans changed after the closing of a Free Methodist shelter in Flint, Michigan.
“The Lord pricked my heart. I had five guys walk up one night and ask: Was the warming center ever going to open back up? And I told them no,” McNeal said. “One of the guys, as they were walking away, turned around and looked at me and said, ‘Well, where am I supposed to go?’ And I had no response for him.”
While working for a local university, McNeal spent his lunch breaks and free time founding My Brother’s Keeper of Genesee County, which began serving homeless men in 2005. The shelter’s name was inspired by Cain’s question for God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
He didn’t earn a salary from the shelter for five years while pouring his time and energy into it.
“The first grant I ever wrote, we got funded for $16,000 — just enough for me to open up the shelter, feed the guys and pay somebody to be a shelter adviser with them,” McNeal said.
The leader of a women’s shelter informed McNeal that the shelter was closing and added, “God told me to sell you this building.”
Dan Shinabarger, then superintendent of the East Michigan Conference, offered Free Methodist help to purchase the historic building along the Flint River near downtown Flint.
My Brother’s Keeper now offers comprehensive services for homeless men. The 25-bed facility provides emergency shelter, food and clothing; a next-step transformational program; and accountability programs that introduce the men to “the feeling of love from friends helping friends.” Clients include military veterans and prisoners re-entering society.
To meet the needs of the homeless men, McNeal forms partnerships with fellow Free Methodists, other Christians and a variety of community groups.
“It’s collaboration, and it’s God,” McNeal said. “What you don’t know is God’s got people strategically placed everywhere.”
Along with his role as director of My Brother’s Keeper, McNeal serves as lead pastor of Living Grace Community Fellowship. While Flint area congregations of multiple denominations support My Brother’s Keeper, Living Grace, a Free Methodist house of worship, has its own space in the front of the building housing the shelter.
“I would say 90 percent of the people who come to the church have no ties to My Brother’s Keeper,” McNeal said. “One of the things I made a conscious decision on is I would never force anybody to come to church. … I think my actions have more ability to bring about change than my words.”
Go to mbkgenesee.org for more information about My Brother’s Keeper.1