What does revival have to do with homelessness? Or a Bible study with alcoholism?
Godliness always has a ripple effect. Revival leads to action. As thousands of men gathered downtown in 1923, the Businessmen’s Bible Class led to tangible results that impacted Kansas City for years. One of them we discussed in last month’s article: the Businessmen’s Bible Class helped fight prostitution in Kansas City. Another ripple effect may have been the opening of City Union Mission. Our only clue is the coinciding timing, as waves of caring for the poor swept over the city.
Opening a Homeless Shelter
The Businessmen’s Bible Class held their largest gathering on November 11, 1923. The following year, Reverend David Bulkley and his wife, Beulah, opened City Union Mission. We can only guess that as a member of the clergy, Rev. Bulkley would have been present at the downtown gathering and part of the wave of Christian men and women fighting for righteousness and reform in the city.
The Bulkleys first opened City Union Mission at what was then known as “Skid Row” in the City Market area of Kansas City. At the time, Kansas City (controlled by the mob) allowed a vice district where illegal businesses could flourish as long as they paid a monthly fine. As the Society for the Suppression of Commercialized Vice worked to end prostitution, their reform efforts successfully shut down many brothels, leaving behind empty brothels in the vice district. Three years after opening City Union Mission, the Bulkleys moved into one such building at 4th and Wyandotte. In the heart of the city’s criminal activities, the Bulkleys opened up a men’s shelter called The Harbor.
Two years later, City Union Mission acquired another building, and six years after that, the city’s leading “Madame,” Annie Chambers, donated her building to City Union Mission. She had met the Bulkleys as her neighbors and given her heart to Christ through their ministry. Upon her death, she bequeathed her mansion to the mission.
City Union Mission kept growing over the decades, expanding their operations to serve women and children as well as men. They opened a children’s camp to serve children from the slums, and a family center for women and children. Today, nearly 100 years later,City Union Mission still runs as a homeless shelter, serving thousands of men, women, and children every year.
Ministry Continues Today
In addition to City Union Mission, many ministries today serve the poor and homeless in Kansas City, another of which is the KC Dream Center. The KC Dream Center serves those in need through a food pantry, street outreach to the homeless, kids’ programs, and more. The KC Dream Center opened in 2018, when Executive Director Brian Hughes left his job to start the center. It is one of 84 Dream Centers nationwide, the first of which was founded in 1994 by Matthew Barnett. Coincidentally, Matthew’s grandfather ministered in Kansas City in the 1950s, and the KC Dream Center is now located in a church that was founded by Matthew Barnett’s grandfather.
Pictures from KC Dream Center
Revival Leads to Action
Action following revival is the typical pattern of Christians. Whenever hearts truly turn to the Lord, their actions follow suit. Their gaze shifts from inward to outward. Isaiah 58:6-7 says,
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
The Bulkleys lived out this exhortation, and their example impacted those around them. Before their neighbor Annie Chambers came to Christ, she told them,
I know about that Scotchman, for years the most notorious drunkard of the North End, that you took into your own home and reformed. I know about the man who was dying in prison but did not want to die there, so you got him out and brought him to your home here that he might die out of prison. I have been watching you.
It was the Bulkleys’ powerful example of obedience to care for those in need that won Chambers over to Christ. And the Bulkleys were just one family among hundreds of other Christians who lived out their faith by caring for the poor. They fought injustice in the city and gave food and shelter to those around them.
Although we’ll never know whether the Bulkleys were part of the Businessmen’s Bible Class, we do know that God was working mightily in our city during those years, just as he is today. May we continue to let God’s work stir our hearts to care for those in need.
“About Us,” KC Dream Center, accessed Sept. 19, 2023.
Bill High and Annika Bergen, The Spiritual Roots of Kansas City: Discovering the Past to Shape Our Future (Kansas City: The Signatry, 2019).
“Our History,” City Union Mission, accessed Sept. 14, 2023.