KINGSBURG, California — After pastoring Oak Park Christian Center in Pleasant Hill, California, for 42 years, ordained Assemblies of God minister Bill H. Mathews and his wife, Lynette, opened Safe Harbor Homes & Services. The nonprofit ministry is designed to offer a Christ-centered home in a loving, caring environment for adults with special needs.
The couple’s 38-year-old son, Kevin, has severe developmental disabilities. Kevin was born deaf, can’t speak, and can’t walk without assistance. His parents cared for him into early adulthood before his needs became too great to handle on their own. This caused them to realize the need for a family-like home for adults with special needs.
The Safe Harbor home, located in Kingsburg, California, currently houses four residents, all of whom receive spiritually enriched care. The ministry soon will welcome two more residents and will have space for six more once a separate wing of the dwelling is renovated. Bill is now an AG U.S. missionary with Intercultural Ministries.
The stunning facility contains over 8,000 square feet. It has wide hallways perfect for wheelchair accessibility, a pool, and a large yard which is home to several fruit trees, ducks, chickens, goats, and one particularly ginormous pig. A contractor who constructed the house in 2003 intended it to be his family’s long-term residence. The wide hallways were built to accommodate his parents as they aged. Although Kevin is a resident of the home, Bill and Lynette live off-site. The couple also have two adult daughters and five grandchildren.
Before Kevin’s birth, a family in the Oak Park congregation had two members with severe developmental delays. Bill and Lynette confess that they failed to show enough sympathy for the family. Their eyes to the needs of the disabled didn’t open until after Kevin’s birth. A visit to a doctor early in Kevin’s life revealed the challenges ahead.
“He saw that Kevin was not going to be able to learn very much,” remembers Lynette, 77. “It was just the saddest day in our lives to hear that.”
“But we’re Pentecostals,” says Bill, 74. “We thought, Well that’s what the doctor said, but God has other plans.”
After praying unceasingly for Kevin, the couple visited a healing ministry in El Salvador. Kevin received prayer, but not healing. Despite this, Bill and Lynette’s faith has been undeterred, and their joy is obvious, even when discussing their only son’s health issues.
“He’s been prayed for many times over the years,” Bill says. “Whatever God does, there is never any unfairness or injustice on His part.”
“God made Kevin for His reasons,” Bill says. “We don’t know all those reasons. But we do know that God is a good God.”
In 2007, Bill and Lynette, then in their early 60s, could no longer care for Kevin at their home because they didn’t have energy to meet his needs. Kevin moved into special housing for the developmentally disabled, but his parents wanted him to be cared for in a more personal and spiritually focused environment.
After retiring from pastoral ministry in 2015, Bill and Lynette began laying the groundwork for Safe Harbor. The home, located on 4.8 park-like acres, opened in 2019 and now has a dozen caregivers. Residents have the opportunity to participate in Bible lessons, crafts, caring for animals, community outings, and swimming. The home, which is nearly all wheelchair accessible, has a spacious eating area and large bedrooms.
The backyard patio alone has more square footage than an average apartment, and the lawns could host a large wedding. On an autumn morning, the smell of fresh-baked breakfast still lingers in the entryway. The house is spotless, but not the home doesn’t feel sterile.
The staff are professional, yet kind and enthusiastic about their work. They take the opportunity to share the small things they’ve done to bless residents and share the gospel with them.
“Three of our residents have enough mental capacity that they can grasp it when we talk about Jesus,” Bill says. “We pray with them all. They have devotions every day.”
Veronica L. Soto, the home’s administrator, says she consistently prays for the specific needs of residents.
“We have one gentleman who, whatever he’s going through, whatever his struggle is — it can be pride, it can be anger — I can totally relate,” Soto says. “I can say to him, ‘Look, you’re human. This is not because you have developmental disabilities.’”
Bill says one couple brought their son to Safe Harbor specifically because of the spiritual aspect of the home. When the resident arrived, he resisted Bible studies and prayer.
“Now you can’t stop him when he prays,” Bill says.
Bill and Lynette recall that one resident who hardly ever speaks prayed for Kevin on his birthday, shouting, “Kevin, I love you! I love you!”
“It was like the Lord expressing his love for Kevin through that resident,” Bill says.
While he relished decades of pastoring, Bill says he has found a special bond with the Safe Harbor residents.
In the Gospel of John — after Jesus performs His first public miracle by turning water at a wedding into wine — the master of the banquet commended the hosts for saving the best wine until the end of the feast. Bill compares his venture of starting a ministry after most people have retired to that classic Bible story.
“It’s almost like the Lord has saved the best wine until last,” he says.