BUT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT is connecting struggling sinners to the God who can save.
One of the first people the Parrs met was Ruth Andrews, a “notorious drunk.” Through conversations with the Parrs and attending a Bible study, Andrews came to know God. She told God that she wanted to serve Him but felt Him saying, “I can’t use you like this.” Andrews responded, “Then I’ll quit.” When she finished alcohol rehab, the Parrs invited her to live with them. Andrews read the Bible and Christian books in Dudley’s library, asking questions about what she read when Dudley or Anna drove her into town. “She was hungry to know more about God,” Dudley said.
When Andrews’ drinking buddies found her, she encouraged them to get sober. They started saying, “If Ruth can do it, I might have to.” Andrews asked the café to host AA meetings and met with friends to answer their questions about God. “It’s a domino effect,” said Dudley. “My wife and I are not the only evangelists now.”
Dudley also befriended Blaine Purkey, one of six addicts and alcoholics who shared an apartment near the café. For three years, the two men talked about God. Purkey knew Scripture well but did not believe that God loved him. Over time, the patient love that Dudley showed him took root. Dudley took Purkey to rehab twice, and after the second time, Purkey said, “I guess God really does love me. I should probably get baptized.” Dudley baptized him, and Purkey defied the expectations of his fellow addicts and got sober.
A year and a half later, Dudley sat in the café with Purkey’s friends, holding a makeshift memorial service after Purkey died of a heart attack. So far, Dudley has done memorial services for three people, including Ruth Andrews, who died two years ago of esophageal cancer. That part of the work is difficult, he said, but “to be able to give the eulogy and say, ‘I know I will see him again,’ to feel confident where they were in their faith, to be able to hear from other people the change that became obvious in their life. Those are some of the successes.”
“To be able to … feel confident where they were in their faith, to be able to hear from other people the change that became obvious in their life. Those are some of the successes.”
SOMETIMES THE LACK of tangible success is discouraging. Dudley has had many conversations about God with Eddie, an agnostic, and Anthony, who refuses to attend church. It takes patience to work with addicts. Dudley has dropped the same people off at rehab multiple times. “Watching people fail takes a toll,” said Dudley. “Watching people fail repeatedly because they’re doing the same thing.”
Parr says some Christians don’t understand what the Overflow Café is trying to do, and some church volunteers are naïve. They believe sob stories people tell them and want to give money even when Dudley warns them: “You give him that money, and I promise you he’s going to be high for the rest of the week.” Even Sunnyside Alliance Church does not always understand, Dudley said. The country church 10 miles away has a different ministry style and deals with a different demographic than the downtown café.
The café struggles with perpetually tight finances. Sunnyside gives money to supplement the café’s revenue, and all the workers are volunteers. The Parrs raise their own support, live in a donated house, and drive donated vehicles so the café’s budget can cover its rent, utilities, and equipment. When the pandemic began this year, the café had to close its dining room. “In March we had enough money to cover April, but we weren’t sure we’d be able to stay open in May,” said Dudley. The team decided to go out with a bang and serve “pay-what-you-want dinners” four nights a week.
By midsummer they were giving out 12-16 meals a night. The kitchen spilled into the empty dining room: A cart holding pots, rectangular tins, and a slow cooker sat along one wall, and boxes of plastic bags and aluminum foil dispensers cluttered the counter. Somehow, month by month, they had enough money to operate. Someone gave them $100, and another person donated a stimulus check. A church they did not know donated, with a letter of encouragement.
Trusting God with the uncertain future is a challenge, but not a new one for the Overflow Café. “The challenge has been learning to trust God for the money that we need when we need it,” Dudley Parr said. “That’s a constant surrender.”
—This story has been corrected to note Overflow Café hosted open mic nights every Friday.
2019 income: $87,000
2019 expenses: $82,000 (expenses are usually around $45,000; a special project that expanded food service capacity raised expenses last year)
Paid staff: 0; volunteers: 4 full time, 35 others
CEO’s salary: $0
The Overflow Café is in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status but currently functions as a ministry of Sunnyside Alliance Church