Reshaping the Church

Jesus on Colfax opens motel doors to the gospel

Posted May 28, 2024

by Margaret Fipps

Volunteers with Jesus on Colfax go two by two to each motel room door, offering prayer and food. Photo courtesy of Kayla Horne

“Do not knock on this door, except if you’re with Jesus on Colfax.”

A small sign a resident placed on their motel room door communicates the large impact of Jesus on Colfax. This ministry cares for the people who live in motels along the longest commercial street in Denver, Colorado. Their volunteers go two by two, knocking on motel doors and bringing food, prayers and hope.

“That's our mission statement: show up, love people, build relationships and cultivate well-being,” said Kayla Horne, Jesus on Colfax’s executive director.

Colfax Street started as a tourist trap. Motels sprung up along a winding route that took tourists to their mountain getaways in the 1950’s, according to Colfax Avenue.org. After the government constructed I-70, Horne said the motel signs and buildings slowly deteriorated and crime began to flourish.

“As I-70 was built and transportation got quicker, they [tourists] didn't need to stay in these motels anymore,” Horne said. “They could just get right up into the mountains, so the motels quickly descended into poverty.”

The motels’ vacancy quickly filled with residents looking for a place to land permanently. Horne said many residents move into the motels for a short time, sometimes forced by a past felony, limited savings or bad credit. Other residents stay for months or even years.

“It’s almost always because they don't have any other options for quality housing,” Horne said.

Jesus on Colfax’s founders, Shawn and Diane Sikkema, developed relationships with the motels’ owners and moved into the neighborhood to meet physical and spiritual needs. Horne and her husband planted a church in the area and quickly moved into leadership roles at Jesus on Colfax.

Alongside their door-to-door ministry, Jesus on Colfax offers a drop-in center called the family room, where Horne said participants can attend Bible studies, classes and counselor meetings. As they move toward their personal goals, participants earn points toward food, clothing and hygiene items. Horne said this empowers them to lift themselves out of poverty.

Jesus on Colfax’s Family Room offers Bible studies, classes and in-person support. Photo courtesy of Kayla Horne

“There's so many systems that hold people in poverty,” Horne said. “Once you start making this much money, you lose your food stamps. Once you start making this much money, you lose medical benefits. That can be discouraging and hold people in generational poverty. Instead of just giving handouts, we try to encourage people to take steps [toward personal goals] and show them that they can do it.”

Jesus on Colfax’s goal is to solve a long-term problem with long-term relationships. To emphasize this, Horne said they do not call the motel residents clients, but friends.

“That really is true,” Horne said. “The people that are living there have friendships with the volunteers and that is beautiful. They were so excited to see them even the first time I went.”

Horne said life on Colfax Street is a grind for survival and daily life behind motel doors is especially difficult for women. Women are often trapped in the sex industry just to put food on the table.

“I think that every woman knows what it feels like to be objectified, and it is just so much worse on Colfax,” Horne said. “We just honor them so much and how they have survived. We want to give them opportunities to live a different way.”

Horne remembers a time when she was objectified while helping with a barbecue in a motel parking lot. Dressed in her black and white Jesus on Colfax shirt, she felt the rumble of a lifted truck pull up beside her. A man rolled down the window, and without hesitation, propositioned her. Horne said she immediately identified with the women she serves.

Out of this need, Horne said Jesus on Colfax started women’s only drop-in hours to support women leaving the sex industry.

“We believe that the heart of Jesus is for redemption from all of that, from addiction, from violence and from sexual exploitation,” Horne said.

As Jesus on Colfax offers Jesus’ redemption, Horne said they seek to heal the brokenness of poverty that results from sin. They view their ministry as long-term physicians in the lives of their friends in the motels.

“Before the fall, relationships were perfect,” Horne said. “And then after the fall, you see Adam and Eve hiding from God. You see them blaming each other. You see them aware that they're naked and that they're experiencing shame. Then work becomes difficult and getting food and needed resources isn't the same. When people have been in generational poverty, what they really need more is relationships. They need to get to those root issues.”

Horne said it may feel easier to hand out money or a bag of food when people see a need, but joining Jesus’ mission to rescue people is far better than an easy solution.

“Just handing somebody $5 or a meal might be a quick fix to make myself feel better,” Horne said. “But am I believing that I'm the savior? Jesus is the one who is rescuing these people, and he's rescuing me. I just get to join him in the work that he's doing. Our vision is that we're rising together through relationships out of poverty. That's a beautiful thing, the rich and poor coming together in the Kingdom of God.”

Relationships are messy, long and difficult. Horne said Jesus on Colfax works with some people for years only to see slow, gradual change. She recalled the change she saw in a motel resident who Jesus on Colfax worked with for months.

Jesus on Colfax sometimes works with motel residents for years. Photo courtesy of Kayla Horne

“His wife loved us from the very beginning, and he was very skeptical,” Horne said. “His wife always wanted us to pray with her, but he rarely did.”

After a few months, Horne said he opened up to prayer and started to attend Bible studies in the family room, but he still peppered them with pointed questions. Finally, he attended the church that meets in the family room. One day, it clicked.

“A few weeks in, in the middle of the sermon, he's like, ‘I think I get it,’” Horne said. “‘Jesus came and loved me in my sin, and I don't have to get cleaned up before I come to him. He came to give me a new life and he's going to help me walk that path.’”

The Hornes’ church in the family room is a special locus of ministry: Jesus on Colfax meets physical needs while the Church meets people’s spiritual needs. Horne said Sunday mornings look different than legacy models of church, but they desire to meet people where they are.

“We felt called by God to come church plant here and create safe spaces for people who hadn't felt welcome in a lot of churches,” Horne said. “This last week, there were more people at church who were unhoused than were housed.”

Horne said people must set aside expectations of how the Church should look and focus on what The Church should do.

“Church is loud, people are just talking sometimes,” Horne said. “We get to bring the church to a motel door. There are some people living in the motels that have disabilities who literally couldn't get out and go to church. We do breakfast every Sunday because that's a real need. A lot of people come for spiritual food and physical food.”

Horne said this ministry increased her dependency on Jesus. Sometimes, she asks God hard questions, like “Why aren’t you setting them free?”

“That's why it's so important for me to be connected to Jesus, to let him work through me,” Horne said. “We continue to believe that it is worth it to show up and love people because they're made in the image of God, even if on this side of eternity, there isn't a lot of change. It takes a lot of dependence on Jesus to stay in a good place because it can be really hard.”

On the hardest street in Denver, Jesus on Colfax continues to fight for change in the lives of their friends living in motels. Even in short-term housing, the Lord can affect long-term change.

Margaret Fipps is a junior Journalism student at Cedarville University and the editor-in-chief of Cedars Magazine. As a journalist, she wants to revive beautiful writing with a purpose: to engage communities in conversations with each other. As a former pastor's kid, she deeply cares for The Church and loves seeing Jesus proclaimed through his bride.