Jesus House Founder Shares Stories of Those Served in New Book

Jesus House Founder Bonnie Kae Lentz performed Thursday night at The Coffee Hound in Bloomington during an event promoting her new book, "Stories From The Jesus House." (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Jesus House Founder Bonnie Kae Lentz performed Thursday night at The Coffee Hound in Bloomington during an event promoting her new book, "Stories From The Jesus House." (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Over a year after Bonnie Kae Lentz and husband Tom closed their West Side Bloomington church and ministry, Lentz’s new book remembers those who came through their doors in search of help and hope.

Stories From the Jesus House” shares Lentz’s experience serving the homeless and marginalized for nearly 16 years at their West Washington Street building.

Angie Reedy and writing partner Patti Lacy helped Lentz compile and publish the stories as a companion to Lentz’s 2015 memoir, “Tattooed by Jesus.”

Like Lentz, Reedy grew up in Bloomington, but was unaware of the underserved population living on the West Side.

“It’s easy to close your eyes to the needs of people who are homeless and need a meal if you’re staying in your East Side bubble.”

For Reedy, Lentz’s accounts are “stories of hope...especially in our economy and culture today. It’s good to see that people are still being changed by Jesus, and people are investing and living their lives in the middle of all of that.”

Lacy hopes readers will see the similarities between people of all backgrounds illustrated in the inspiring and sometimes humorous stories.

What began as a church after Lentz’s husband painted the word “Jesus” on a sheet hung on their front porch evolved over time to meet the community’s varied needs.

“We weren’t there just as a church; we were there for the people,” said Lentz. “We were a spiritual emergency room. Anyone could walk through our doors at any time and receive help to the best of our ability to help them.”

Lentz and her husband moved their ministry to Washington Street in 2000, offering shelter, meals and coffee to those with nowhere else to go.

The Jesus House later introduced after-school programs, partnering with Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan Universities to offer tutoring to area students. Lentz said the church became a kind of community center, hosting town hall-style meetings and Saturday night music concerts.

For any need they couldn’t meet, Lentz partnered with community organizations like PATH and Safe Harbor to connect people with the right services.

The Lentzes closed The Jesus House in September 2016.

“In life we have seasons of change, and we felt our time here had come to an end,” said Lentz. She and her husband continue to travel across the country doing work similar to their ministry through The Jesus House. “Our horizons have just expanded,” Lentz said.

Last year the pair also travelled to Ecuador, working with a local ministry to establish a church there much like The Jesus House.

In its 16 years on Washington Street, The Jesus House helped transform the surrounding neighborhood, Lentz said.

“When we first went there in 2000, that particular corner was filled with drug addiction...that whole area changed. I’m not saying everybody got better, but they moved out of that area to some extent. It was no longer the red light district on our corner.”

In that time the ministry also housed around 35 people in need of a place to stay. “There were many lives changed through us taking them in,” Lentz said. “I think that impacts the community as well, when people find faith and better themselves, their thinking and their lifestyle.”

The couple still have their hands in the community as members of Eastview Christian Church in Normal engaging in local service projects.

Lentz said other churches, like Abundant Life in Downtown Bloomington, have taken up the mantle of service in the West Side as well.

Both of Lentz’s books are available on Amazon.