Bethel alum and Source Ministries director cares for society's victims
Culture | Sarah Gilpin
Bethel alum Peter Wohler (right) with his friend Josh. | Courtesy of Sarah Gilpin
Long, graying dreads meet in the middle of his back in a loose ponytail. He wears a casual t-shirt and shorts, and a cheerful grin on his face as we meet. Peter Wohler of Source Ministries is an approachable man who ministers to "those who have been left out" in Minneapolis, a passion he has held since he was young. Twisting and fiddling with his lengthy goatee, he tells a story of a Sunday School teacher who years later recalled that even as a young boy Wohler had a heart for others. Wohler agrees, noticing that, "God had wired me to reach those marginalized in our culture."
As a pastor's kid from Brooklyn Park, Wohler was exposed to life in ministry early on. His mother, an accountant, held a variety of jobs to put her five children through college. Wohler ('89), was the fifth of his siblings to attend Bethel University. Realizing his passion for at risk teens soon after graduating, Wohler decided to work with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). In the red light district in Amsterdam, and later in the brothels of India, Wohler learned about the realities of women being forced into sex trafficking.
"After returning a year later, I felt called to 'my Jerusalem' which is here in Minneapolis," said Wohler. He describes homeless teens who give themselves to prostitution and survival sex as living in an "almost tribal" way. “If you are a homeless street kid, you are able to find others that are homeless and there is this acceptance that really turns into a family that will help you survive," he said. "And being part of that means that if you give it up for a few bucks you're just helping out the family."
Wohler discovered that although homeless youth are “wounded and alienated," most are open to relationships. "Some of them had grown up as church kids and were spiritual," he noted. "Most of them were spiritual in fact, but they all wanted nothing to do with the institutional church."
Wohler decided that to effectively reach those marginalized, he needed to spend time where Christians aren't. Holding spiritual discussions in 24-hour coffee shops and starting an outreach at teen raves, Wohler and his friends found the importance in hosting things where people felt like they belonged. "Going to where the marginalized are all with the motto of being a friend and a voice," has been his motive. "Their emotional needs must be met through being a friend."
The Fallout Urban Art Center is one of the places that Wohler and his team have provided for the marginalized to feel like they belong. A white room at the building's entrance waits to be filled with artwork created by people from the neighborhood. The Fallout also houses a variety of community gathering rooms, places where anyone is welcome. we took a break from our conversation to help unload the week's groceries, filling the kitchen that provides a type of food shelf for those in need. Wohler explains that his day-to-day job has no description. "I'm a janitor, case worker, mentor, contractor, fund-raiser, pastor, street outreach leader and disciple," he said.
Wohler joined Source Ministry as Executive Director in 1994 with a focus on the idea of providing discipleship homes for individuals who need an escape and a place to start over. Before Wohler's hope of providing discipleship homes began to become a reality, he and his friends simply rented a house and invited those in need to live with them. Wohler explains that after marrying his wife, Jessica, in 1996, and before they had their four children beginning in 2001, the couple took several young women and some men into their own home to help them get on their feet.
In 2001, with the understanding that there are very few opportunities for women who want to make a break from the sex industry, The Annex was designed to be a self-sustaining transitional home for sex trafficking and prostitution recovery.
The Annex provides a phase two type of recovery, a cost-free option after the initial placement and life skills program provided by Breaking Free, the organization Source has partnered with. The Annex also houses individuals who volunteer several hours a week to spend time with the women who have chosen to live there, sharing a meal a week and providing the rent payment. Most importantly, these roommates provide for the women a new, caring family. Wohler describes the main goal of transitional homes as "a place to provide growth through meeting goals, and be a place where you are surrounded by a family of encouragement."
Peter Wohler has used his discipleship skills of being "a friend and a voice" to reach those forgotten and victimized in society. Providing a common ground of understanding and support, his passions are effectively used to change lives.