A HEART FOR THE UNHOUSED
When Pat Abernathy’s husband passed away from Parkinson’s disease 11 years ago, she says her heart moved with him to heaven.
She told the Lord, “I’m just not the same person, and I will never be the same person, so you’re going to have to reinvent me. My only request is that I be a conduit of your love into my community,” Pat says. “And that’s what he has done.”
Three weeks after Ed passed away, Pat’s son worked at the Living Hope Christian Center warming shelter and called her.
“He said, ‘Mom, can you please come down? We have women here, and we can’t let them in without a woman.’”
Spending the night in a women’s shelter wasn’t really what she wanted to do at that moment, but she couldn’t tell him no.
“That was the beginning of my shelter involvement with Jefferson County,” the Madras woman said.
Since that night, she has poured her heart and soul into the local shelter ministry. “She gives unreservedly to everything, and she believes in God, and she is one who wants to see the gospel message preached,” said New Life Christian Fellowship Pastor Darrell Sumner, who has known Pat for about 10 years. “She loves Jesus with all her heart, and it shows through her hands of love for other people.”
He says Pat is a wonderful supporter of Madras Gospel Mission, helping with fundraisers and coordinating and cooking meals for the men’s home that his church oversees.
Then, about three years ago, she went to work for the Jefferson County Faith Based Network and helped form and became coordinator of the Jefferson County Winter Shelter. The emergency shelter houses between four and 20 individuals each night between Nov. 1 and mid-March. The shelter, which averages about 15 people per night, can accommodate men, women and children.
“We usually use churches, but because of COVID, we are looking for a building in the city to house the unhoused,” Pat explains.
Her duties at the seasonal shelter include coordinating and serving three meals a day and overseeing the shelter fundraising and operations. The Faith Based Network is also working on starting a women’s shelter.
Before settling in Madras 11 years ago, Pat lived in other Central Oregon towns as well as the coast and Alaska.
“I had worked with underserved and unhoused people in Alaska, so it was very familiar for me to work with them, especially the Native cultures,” Pat says. “Often, the older woman is the most respected person in their Native culture.” She handles situations with firmness but grace.
“My heart is invested in doing this, and I know these people,” Pat says. “These people love me, and I love them, and they respect me.” Aside from her shelter work, Pat also volunteers at her church, Living Hope Christian Center, where she oversees hospitality, helps in the office, and is the chamber’s church representative.
By trade, Pat is an event planner, but she has been in public ministry most of her adult life. She also works as a certified caregiver and has been a public speaker. And, she loves airplanes.
“I’m totally an air culture person,” she says.
For several years, she has helped host and serve hundreds of visitors at the Airshow of the Cascades in Madras each August. She enjoys planning and catering various community events and holding tea parties to connect women.
“I spell love f-o-o-d,” she says, laughing.
Pat’s gifts of connecting people and bridging the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is evident in the lives of those her hands of love have touched. “It is my privilege and my honor to do this,” she says. “I love doing it.”