Smack dab in the middle of a residential and light-industrial neighborhood is a small, gray, unassuming building you might not even notice.

Except. ...

Except for the passage from Jeremiah emblazoned on the outside wall and the life-size mural of Christ beckoning visitors to enter.

It’s the House of Prayer, Highway Holiness Church, and its mission is to be open to all, all the time.

At about 600 square feet, the little church is nondenominational but has a devoted following.

“God told us to come name this the House of Prayer and open it anytime, and he said he will answer every prayer prayed here,” says the Rev. James Wise, 74.

According to Wise, the building has always housed churches, sometimes used as adjuncts to larger facilities.

He and a few other believers opened the House of Prayer 10 years ago. While the size of the congregation has remained small — about 10 people regularly attend services — Wise points out the makeup is diverse, composed of Native Americans, Hispanics, Filipinos, African-Americans and whites.

“We want to grow bigger,” says Rosie Vazquez of Wapato, an associate pastor. Wise’s wife, Erlinda, serves as co-pastor.

According to Vazquez and Wise, their church fills a different niche.

“We’re not like other churches,” Vazquez says. “We go by what the Bible says. When the Holy Spirit moves us, we’re listening to God only; he controls the service.”

Wise agrees. “We worship the same Jesus Christ, but our instructions are to open the church 24 hours, seven days a week, for prayer to anybody, member or nonmember.”

Wise, who was ordained 45 years ago in an independent church in Denver called the Bethseda Revival Fellowship, has done evangelical work around the country. “I’ve ministered in all kinds of churches,” he says, noting that he’s affiliated with the Full Gospel Church, the Church of God in Christ and Baptist churches. He was also associate pastor at the Full Gospel Church at the corner of 16th and Englewood avenues for 10 years during the 1990s.

“James is a very, very good man,” says the Rev. David Kelly of the Full Gospel Church. “He’s always got a lending hand out to help. There aren’t too many people left like James.”

A decade ago, an acquaintance approached Wise to tell him about a little building on Mead Avenue that was sitting empty. By that time, the native of Charleston, Ark., had retired after 22 years of working at Boise Cascade.

But Wise was intrigued with the prospect of starting a new church. “I asked if we could spend 24 hours of fasting and prayer here (in the building) to see if it was God’s will.”

After determining it was the right place, Wise approached the landlord, who lives in Wenatchee, “I told him, ‘We have no finances, we have no members, and I’m retired,’ and he still said OK.”

So they began. For about the first eight years, the landlord didn’t charge rent. “That was a blessing,” says Wise.

Services are Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings. Communion is given at every service. Prayer hours, at 10 a.m., precede services. The duration of the 11 a.m. Sunday service is open-ended, says Wise. “We sing and praise God for an hour or sometimes five minutes. It varies. We have no control over that. We’re led by the power of God.”

Wise provides strong guidance for the church, says Vazquez. “He’s a very good leader and teacher. We’re learning from the best.”

Members call Saturday the Sabbath, but they are not part of a Seventh-day church. Every Sunday, congregants wash one another’s feet, while baptisms are done in the Yakima River in the summer. Church members strongly believe in supporting Israel, Wise says. The church sends money every month to support orphanages, elder care and homeless centers there.

Although they collect no offering, there’s a box for donations sitting on the altar.

“Our finances are OK,” says Wise, who receives no salary from the church. “God sends us money through other people.”

For example, he tells the story of a truck driver who wasn’t from Yakima but who felt he was told to go to the House of Prayer. He stopped and asked where it was, then came and left an offering.

Often people will pull up in front of the church, drawn by the mural, Wise says. “I find cars outside praying,” Wise says, then stops and laughs. “Not the cars praying. The people. That would be something,” he says, laughing again.

The idea has always been to be available to anyone who needs to pray. For a time, church members took turns spending the night in sleeping bags in the sanctuary, but there aren’t enough church members to a make that practical right now, Wise says.

That saddens him because of the original mission. For now, the compromise is to be open for prayer whenever the green light in front is on, and if it isn’t, people can call the phone number on the front of the building. Wise or someone else will come open the church.

Small or not, open all night or not, the goal remains the same, Wise says: “We want to help people better themselves, if they can.”

• Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or jgargas@yakimaherald.com.