3001 N. Central Ave Indianapolis IN 46205
Tel: (317) 920-5292

In ancient Israel, there was a concept called a city of refuge.  These were places where someone guilty of a crime, say, manslaughter, could go to and receive asylum.  There weren’t necessarily places of protection, but places where there was an opportunity for atonement.  That sort of image is what comes to mind when one visits The Unleavened Bread Café.

The matronly woman typically seated near the front of the café ready to greet everyone who comes through its doors is Elease Womack, though she goes by many names, typically Mother Womack (or Momma or Ma).  Getting Elease to talk about herself is like pulling teeth.  Mother of three, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of two, she’s always given back to the community; first as a teacher, then as Momma Womack, mother to a community. She has a hug for everyone since hugs are “God’s arms extended”.  In short, to be in her presence is to be loved.

“”The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,”” –Luke 4:18

Now entering into its 14th year, the Unleavened Bread Café was born out of her dream to have a Christian café.  Yet, that dream was transformed and impacted as “the Lord gave me a vision about the people” in the form of that verse.   “A lot of folks can sit in pews every Sunday,” she says, “but it was time to start doing work.” After sharing her dream with a few folks, she soon she found herself in a room full of men; many of whom had Ph.Ds, M.S., or B.S. degrees.  All she had was her “B.A. (Born Again) degree”.

One of the many remarkable things about The Unleavened Bread Café is its location.  On the corner of 29th and Central, it is surrounded by empty lots and boarded up buildings, an oasis in a desert of urban decay.  The building itself was once the home of the Seven Star Baptist Church, only part of the long history to the place.

The founders “dedicated the building back to the Lord in October, 1996.”  Back then, the building was in a sorry state of affairs.  Ceiling tiles missing, wiring exposed, walls falling apart.  In fact, at one point they didn’t know there was a window on one of the walls, because it was so lost in boards nailed upon boards.  Yet that’s when the miracle of neighborhood transformation began.   The people of the community pitched in to reclaim this corner, with even the local homeless men helping out.  On February 8, 1997, The Unleavened Bread Café opened for ministry and food.

There is a missional aspect to the café, as Momma Womack has made it her personal ministry to give people hope and help.  She sees her role as reaching out to people who are in the midst of despair, directionlessness, and not knowing where to go; the spiritually downtrodden, broken, and those in need hope.  And she has a special heart of concern for women caught up in substance abuse; women in all walks of life actually.  She takes in prostitutes, drug dealers, and ex-cons and helps them get back on track.  By hiring them, she gives them an opportunity to transition into better opportunities.

“He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”” –Ezekiel 37:3

Fourteen years ago, the building was little more than a dilapidated, abandoned pile of bricks, urban bones, yet they now live.  The building serves as a community meeting place with everything from Bible studies to a living skills class to cocaine anonymous.  It has a Vacation Bible School, a Back to School Rally, and Thanksgiving giveaways.  Many groups were founded within its walls from the Community, Faith, and Labor Coalition to Women in Motion (HIV education) to a women’s Sewing Group (even the sewing group is missional, as they make blankets for women and children down at the Raphael Health Clinic).  The tendrils of the café stretch all the 
way out to Mulberry, Indiana  where they have a garden project, taking people—some of whom have never been to a farm—out to help raise food for the community.

With its mix of down home cooking (just a few examples including pancakes, hash browns, eggs any way you can imagine for breakfast; chili, chicken noodles, and gumbos for lunch) and hearty portions, no one goes away hungry from The Unleavened Bread Café.  If folks have no money, they are given jobs to work for their meal.  In turn, the community is very protective of the place.  Over the years, though it’s been broken into a couple of times, for the most part, it’s considered hallowed ground.

One may not know it to see it, but the Unleavened Bread Café is a beachhead of neighborhood reconciliation or as Momma Womack puts it “a place to come in and get well.”