California Church Embraces Homeless Ministry by Young Man With Autism

Every week, 20-year-old Luke McAllister accompanies his dad to the grocery store in Thousand Oaks, California, where he sees homeless people in the parking lot. Luke identifies with the directionless nature of these folks because he has autism and struggles daily as a result of his condition.

“His autism made him more empathetic to the needy people he saw,” says his mom, Dena. “And his sensitive nature caused him to pursue a way to help.”

So, in early 2015, McAllister, then 19, launched a “packet ministry,” which provides homeless people with bags of food, tissues, hand sanitizer—and two Bible passages that provide a message of hope and love: Isaiah 41:10 and Psalm 136:26. “These individuals need to hear that God is able to help,” McAllister says.

Each quart-size Ziploc also includes two, $1 bills, bottled water and a note saying, “This packet was prepared by Luke, a young man with autism.”

McAllister is mostly nonspeaking, but he communicates through typing, carefully spelling out his ideas for his ministry. When he presented these ideas in April 2015 to his 100-member congregation at Camarillo Church of Christ in Camarillo, California, they immediately embraced it.

Heading up this ministry has been an empowering experience for McAllister, because where he was once perceived as the boy with the disability, he’s now a proud leader with a focused mission.

“It’s interesting because Luke has this quirk where he hates to backtrack, so if you’ve missed your turn while driving, he would rather not turn around,” says Dena. “However, if Luke spots a needy person on the other side of the street, he’ll insist we backtrack to give them a bag.”

Dena says that these packets (1,000 of which have been distributed in the first year of ministry) bridge a conversation that before may have been too awkward to initiate. “Luke has shown us how to start up conversations with anyone, anywhere,” says Dena. “He has taught us how to communicate.”

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Camarillo, California


Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.