In the small town of Mitchell, Oregon, population 130 in the middle of nowhere, sits a five-star donation-based hostel that consistently receives rave reviews and even boasts an award from Oregon’s governor for the best innovation in tourism development in the state.
What most people don’t realize when they arrive is that the hostel is actually a ministry of Praise Assembly of God-Mitchell. It all started in 2015 when Jalet A. Farrell had an unusual vision.
On a summer day, Jalet stopped in Mitchell to look at some vintage travel trailers for a photo shoot of her commercial photographer husband, Patrick J. Farrell. She decided to do a little shopping and snooping on the side and took a tour of an old building for sale. The basement of the structure contained overstock shelves for the grocery store next door.
Jalet thought the shelves looked like bunk beds. She thought, Why not create a hostel in that old building? Though Mitchell is in the heart of ranching country, it sits directly on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, which draws thousands of bicyclists and motorcyclists every year from around the world.
It didn’t matter that neither she nor her husband considered themselves bicyclists or that they never had stayed at a hostel. She saw it as an opportunity to use their hospitality gifts to share the gospel and help the small town flourish spiritually and economically.
She drove home to Monmouth, Oregon, and shared the vision with Patrick. Initially he didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“I’m ashamed to admit my first thought was, No way,” he says. The couple had planned to travel during their approaching retirement. Running a hostel wouldn’t exactly allow them to see the country. Rather, they’d be hosting others who traveled.
But they agreed to pray about it, and the next weekend they drove the more than 200 miles back to Mitchell. Despite retirement beckoning, Patrick agreed with his wife that God wanted them to do something significant in Mitchell.
They began to pursue the vision in earnest, but the building they’d originally considered proved to be too expensive. They returned to Mitchell once more to see if they really had heard from God. In town over a weekend, they decided to worship at the local Assembly of God church. They didn’t know the Sunday they attended marked the last service for the church about to close.
Later that day they received a phone call from their pastor, Joe G. Pearson, of Praise Church in Monmouth. They shared the notion of starting a new AG congregation in town. Pearson, who also is the AG Oregon Ministry Network church planting director, loved the idea.
“Pat and Jalet have always been super in tune with hearing from God, so when they brought me the idea, even though it was so unexpected, I didn’t doubt it was supposed to happen,” says Pearson.
Pearson took the proposal to the Oregon Ministry Network, which agreed to a church plant and the hospitality ministry. The Farrells — who had served on the leadership team at Praise of Monmouth as care pastors — became pastors and managers. The church building sits directly on U.S. Highway 26, the main route for bicyclists.
Patrick and Jalet received accreditation as pastors, and in 2016, they relaunched the church as part of a parent-affiliated campus of Praise. They also opened the Spoke’n Hostel, which houses 18 beds. That first year, 365 guests came, hearing of it only through word of mouth. Last year, 1,300 people stayed there.
This isn’t just a sleeping stopover point. The Farrells say they see Spoke’n Hostel as a place of restoration for all who enter.
Jalet, 58, says they want the guests to feel at home. Many bicyclists are lonely and trying to figure out their overall journey in life, which allows the Farrells to guide the conversation toward spiritual matters.
While the hostel covers the main floor, including the sanctuary, the congregation of about 20 meets in the basement. Though the Farrells initially considered putting the hostel downstairs, they realized such a spot should have the prime location.
“If we were going to offer hospitality based on the extravagant love of Christ, then why wouldn’t we put the hostel in the most extravagant place?” asks Patrick, 51. “By putting the beds in the sanctuary, it makes a physical statement: it reminds us and shows others that hospitality is an important extension of God’s love.”
“The hostel is a great example of the church being missional and focused on the segment of population God has called them to reach,” Pearson says.
Hostel visitors sign the guestbook with comments such as, “I feel such peace here” and “This was the most important stop of my entire trip.” Repeatedly, the guests remark about the special atmosphere of the hostel.
“I know full well that the special something they feel is Jesus in every corner of it,” says Jalet.
While a hostel in a church is out of the box, Pearson is impressed.
“Once you’ve been there and seen the hospitality at work, you really understand what a local church should be like,” Pearson says.