Volunteers bring Easter worship and brunch to East Sprague
Virginia De Leon
March 22, 2008
A few hours after the exotic dancers call it a night and customers guzzle down the last round of beer, Linda Davies will begin her work at the Rainbow Bar and Grill. Early on Sunday, the Spokane woman will show up at the tavern and strip club on East Sprague Avenue bearing flowers, streamers and helium balloons in every color of the rainbow.
For the last four years, this drinking hole – known for its “cold beer and hot women,” located on the street where serial killer Robert Yates picked up his victims – has turned into a place of worship on Easter Sunday.
More than 100 people usually show up for the service that’s become known as “Resurrection at the Rainbow.”
Instead of the wholesome, lily-white images often associated with the holiday, Easter at the tavern is certainly a dingier affair, a gathering that includes some rough and tough folks who spend most nights lurking along East Sprague.
Instead of dry-cleaned suits and pastel dresses, some arrive reeking of alcohol and wearing the clothes they wore the night before. A few also show up drunk or high or, at the very least, hung over.
“There are a lot of good people that are broken by life situations and they just need to know that someone cares,” said the Rev. Gary Hebden, a pastor who has been leading the Easter service at the Rainbow since 2005. “Just to be able to go there and give some light to people who are walking through a dark, dark time in their life is an absolute joy.”
On Sunday, after preaching to his own congregation at Valley Church of the Open Bible, Hebden will hop on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and head down to the Rainbow. There, he’ll join Davies and dozens of other volunteers as they serve meals and pray with prostitutes, drug addicts, the homeless and many others who wouldn’t normally spend Easter in a church.
“Isn’t God awesome?” Davies said recently as she told the story of “Resurrection at the Rainbow.”
Although Easter has been celebrated at the tavern for only four years, Davies’ history at the Rainbow goes back more than a decade.
In the early 1990s, Davies was one of the regulars on East Sprague. High on crack cocaine, she spent many nights skulking among prostitutes and pimps in search of drugs to sustain her habit. When she needed a break, she would go into the Rainbow and have a drink at the bar. Often, she would be too high to remember anything.
“Back then, things were booming on Sprague Avenue,” said Davies. “For the devil, not for God.”
Her drug addiction, which lasted 25 years, almost killed her. But after moving to Fort Worth, Texas, Davies discovered a Christian ministry known as Teen Challenge that helped drug addicts.
When she returned to Spokane in 2000, Davies was sober and “set free by the Lord,” she said.
It was during this time that she established her own ministry called “Bondage Breakers,” a group of female former drug addicts who prayed and read the Bible together. Davies and the other women soon made it their mission to reach out to people who abused drugs as well as to the homeless and disenfranchised.
While praying one evening, Davies suddenly felt called to go back to the Rainbow. Despite the fact that it reminded her of those dark days of drugs and delirium, she believed it was her mission to bless the tavern, as well as the people inside.
After talking to Ben Hicks, the bar owner until his death two years ago, Davies received permission to visit the Rainbow the week before Christmas 2004. She and others from Bondage Breakers had put together baskets filled with lotions, shampoos, religious books and other gifts for the exotic dancers at the bar.
“We’re the Bondage Breakers and we’re here just to bless you,” said Davies, recalling her words when she walked into the dark tavern.
Touched by their gesture, the women hugged Davies and thanked all of them profusely for the gifts. Soon, even the bar patrons came forward to shake their hands and wish them well, Davies recalled.
The Bondage Breakers returned on Valentine’s Day with roses for the dancers as well as the prostitutes on the streets.
In the spring, Davies felt called by God to organize an Easter service at the church.
“God says he wants to have church at the Rainbow Tavern,” she told the other women from Bondage Breakers. While some thought it was a crazy idea, they continued to support Davies’ efforts to bring church to a bar.
Hicks, the tavern owner, turned her down twice. Just weeks before Easter, Davies tried again. She told Hicks about her plan to serve brunch and have a worship band.
“Let me put it to you like this,” said Davies, recalling her words as she appealed to Hicks. “If we were to have brunch here on Easter for this neighborhood, everyone that was invited would be blessed. Not only that, you would be blessed for allowing it in your business and we would be blessed for being able to serve you.”
Hicks finally relented. As Davies walked out of the bar that day, he stopped her to tell her one last story, Davies recalled. He had been a pastor once, he told her. When his wife died suddenly many years ago, he left the church because he had a hard time forgiving God, according to Davies. Hicks’ decision to allow a church service into his bar forged a friendship between the two.
Once people learned about the plan to have Easter at the Rainbow, donations and offers to help came in from a number of ministries and individuals.
Volunteers wanted to help decorate, make desserts, set up the buffet as well as hand out invitations to people on East Sprague and other parts of town. Davies ordered Bibles for all the participants and bought one bound in leather for Hicks. She also found scarves for the dancers so they could use them as prayer shawls during the service.
After the bar shut down at 2 a.m., Hicks prepared a pot of coffee for Davies and others who spent the rest of the night cleaning and decorating the Rainbow for Easter Sunday service.
When people came in off the streets that morning, they entered a tavern that was transformed into a sanctuary for the day – a room anointed with oil and adorned with flowers and decorations in every color of the rainbow. For the first time in a long while, they dined on white tablecloths and enjoyed a feast of ham, scrambled eggs, fruit and other dishes.
“When the guests arrived there was such a unity that we all became equal,” Davies said, recalling the emotion that permeated the tavern on that first Easter service. “There was no distinction between guests and the servants. We all became equal, and as we became equal, we became a family. The love that was flowing was unconditional and pure.”
Davies and many others from various Spokane-area ministries believe that “Resurrection at the Rainbow” is just part of a miracle that’s slowly unfolding in an area of town notorious for drug deals and prostitution.
Since that first Easter Sunday service, East Sprague has experienced a revival of sorts – one that has led business owners to paint their buildings and clean up the street. In the last few years, an elegant coffee shop and other new storefronts have opened along East Sprague.
Most of the revitalization work has been done by business owners, but Davies and other Christians also want to give some of the credit to God. “He wants to bless Spokane,” she said.
Last year, several businesses on East Sprague also helped out with the Easter celebration – Acme TV lent organizers a big-screen television for the service; Sonnenberg’s Market and Deli donated hot dogs; and Croteau’s Appliances provided a refrigerator and some ovens to store and heat the food.
“We have a very eclectic group of people,” said Gary Hicks, who inherited the bar in 2006 after his brother’s death. “(Easter service) is an unusual thing to have here, but the bar is used as a gathering place for people who have nowhere to go.”
Hicks – who buried his brother with the leather-bound Bible and a gold cross that was given to him by the Bondage Breakers – wants the Easter tradition to continue at the Rainbow.
“I know Ben is looking down on us with full approval,” said Gary Hicks. “We’ll definitely keep doing this. …
“But since we don’t close until 2 a.m., we will never have a sunrise service.”