Paul and Suzanne Whitmire are “urban missionaries” who serve a vast underserved population in the heart of Oklahoma City at 9th and McKinley. Cross & Crown Mission was launched in 2001 by the Whitmires and others from their home church group. They immediately began rehabbing a dilapidated old church property, and for the last 20-plus years have remade the surrounding neighborhood and the lives of many of those they serve. Paul and Suzanne emerged from the church I attend when it was known as Quail Springs Church of Christ. Our congregation, now known as The Springs Church of Christ, still supports our urban missionaries two decades later. Paul recently took the time to answer a few questions about his ministry for this BlogOKC feature.
Question: Where were you raised and what did you do in previous life before Cross & Crown?
Answer: My father was a minister. While living at home, we lived in seven different towns, mostly Texas. I graduated high school in Houston, college from Abilene Christian University. I served as a youth minister in Fort Worth from 1979-1984, youth minister in Edmond from 1984-1992, operated an antique business from 1992-2001. Began Cross & Crown in March 2001.
Q: Tell me the story of how you came to launch this ministry in this part of the city?
A: We considered moving to Honduras. God moved us to 9th and McKinley. Most people said ‘don’t go to that area.’ God said ‘go to that area.’ (For more on the founding of Cross & Crown Mission, read this story by Bobby Ross published in The Oklahoman in 2001 ).
Q: Who has worked with you and your wife, Suzanne, over the years to advance the ministry?
A: The work was originally shared by our house church with the ultimate plan to be primarily operated with people from the community. God keeps sending people. Some receive and leave, some receive and come back for more, some receive and come back to be a part of giving to others.
Q: What obstacles have you faced in this journey to provide ministry through the Cross & Crown Mission?
A: Big obstacles early. Most were because we said ‘but how?’ Finances, trust of the community, paying the bills, getting enough food. Someone asked early on if I knew how much it would cost to make the old building usable? I told him I know someone that has more money than we could ever need. He wanted to know the guy’s name. I gave him my Bible.
Q: What population are you serving, (and how have you gained their trust over the years?
A: We serve whoever shows up. About 65 percent are hispanic. The group with the most to fear. We try to meet their request; we ask to pray; we act humbly. It has worked. Many gave fake names early, then shared their real names later.
Q: How do you balance providing for physical needs and well being of those you serve and being a spiritual influence or leader for them?
A: We have discovered that graciously meeting physical needs eventually leads to them asking the question of ‘why?’ You get the rest.
Q: How would you describe the impact Cross & Crown has had on the neighborhood surrounding your location?
A: Early into the work, housing became an ongoing need. We followed Isaiah 61:1-4 and decided we would ‘restore the places long devastated and renew the ruined cities.’ It has significantly changed the landscape.
Q: What type of services do you provide?
A: The primary services provided: food, clothing, furniture, medical, legal aid, housing, education of youth, Bible study, worship, baby supplies, prayer.
Q: What’s a typical day look like at the mission?
A: Sunday morning worship; Monday-Wednesday: food pantry, clothing, furniture. Wednesday: legal aid; Thursday-Saturday: projects in the neighborhood. Primary focus: being in the neighborhood constantly to meet people’s needs, being Jesus to others.
Q: How often do you offer worship services?
A: Worship service: Sunday morning 10:30-12, English and Spanish.
Q: From where have you drawn your volunteers over the years?
A: Our volunteers come from around the city or live in the neighborhood or are in our housing programs. Our paid staff are all self-supported missionaries , such as myself.
Q: How do you measure the success of your ministry?
A: I wish I knew how to measure success, but I trust God with that. I knew if they were hungry and we fed them; needed clothes and we provided them; they were thirsty and we gave them drink; homeless and we housed them; alone and we invited them in; were drunk for 40 years and we helped them to be sober for one day; never thought God loved them and we showed them love, led them to Jesus, became family when they had none; then it’s a good day to me.
Q: How has the ministry expanded, and its mission changed or evolved over the years?
A: The ministry began with food from ours and your pantries, then relationship with the Regional Food Bank, relationship with Walmart, Dollar General, pastry shops. Taking people home with us — to 11 properties to house people; two attorneys to address legal needs to 150 partnering attorneys available. From after school with children in basement to new Youth Center, to Classical Arts school for neighborhood children. And on and on. In the midst of the pandemic we began a south side mission in Capitol Hill. It’s known as the Christian Service Center, with Luke Whitmire as director and minister.
Q: How do you describe yourself to people you meet along the way?
A: When people ask what I do, (I say) ‘I’m the director of an inner-city non-profit.’ Then it’s up to them to be curious. An hour later they have a pretty good idea of what I do, and maybe wished they had been satisfied with my first answer. It’s normal that I will be in tears, and maybe them, as well. God is pretty amazing.
Q: How can local people contribute or participate as volunteers?
A: Donate or volunteer. Donate almost anything if it works. Clothes, food, appliances, furniture, cars. Call Paul at (405) 232-7696. Volunteer — let’s get past COVID.
Q: What else would you want readers of this blog to know about you or the Cross & Crown mission?
A: This work is the Lord’s. He wants it to be the work of all of us. We need financial donors, we need prayer warriors, we need material donations.
Q: What do you want to say to the people of The Springs church, where you were when you began the ministry?
A: The people of The Springs were there with us when we began in 2001. They have supported and prayed for us continually. They have never burdened us with expectations or demands. They have faithfully been family to us and blessed us richly. We are not alone because of you.