Two Churches, Two Races, One Heart 


This may be the most difficult and yet most enjoyable blog entry I've ever written. The hard part is going to be getting it right, in words. Our church, especially our youth, is spending the week ministering in a poor and troubled part of town, partnering with a church that's located right in that neighborhood. Our church is 99.8% white. The other church is just as thoroughly African-American. We have absolutely fallen in love with each other this week. 

Churches United
Last night both churches (all of us, for this one event, not just the youth and their leaders) united for a cookout and a worship service at Newport News City Park. We had two large pavilions to sit under as we ate our hamburgers, hot dogs, and a whole lot of barbecue ribs. I was the sound tech for the music and speaking. A rainstorm was threatening the whole time we were eating--and it hit, just as we started the music. That was actually an answer to prayer. The park rangers had told us it was okay to use a sound system if it didn't get too loud. But with the rain all around us, there was nobody else in the park to care, and I could run the sound just the way I wanted. The rain stopped in time for us to re-load the equipment in the vehicles without it getting wet. The timing was perfect. It was almost the mirror image of another miraculous situation I've previously written about. Not only that, but the rain brought everybody together under one pavilion roof. (I'm guessing there were about 250-300 people there.)

But it's not that we had been separate by race or by church. We didn't need the rain to integrate us, but only to move us into a tighter bunch. (Here comes the hard part to write.) I have been moved to tears several times this week, including right now while I'm writing, by the love and unity that we've found with each other. There is a friendship bond that has arisen almost--though not entirely--out of nowhere, between the individuals in their church (Rising Sun Baptist) and ours (Seaford Baptist). There has even been a blending on the cultural level. That can be one of the most difficult between White and Black churches; but we've been enjoying their music and worship style, and (as far as I know) they've been enjoying ours.

A Common Bond of Outreach
The bond, as I said, did not arise out of nowhere. This partnership was built for the purpose of ministering to the Lackey region of York County, about 8 miles from our church--an area with a difficult history of drugs, violence, and economic struggles. It started when our church's youth leaders decided to seek out a cross-cultural mission opportunity for our youth. A free medical clinic in Lackey had previously asked if we could somehow help with some food distribution and a "garage free sale," which is like a garage sale ("jumble sale" in British English?) except the price on every item will be zero dollars and zero cents.

We began considering the idea as a possible youth ministry, and contacted Rising Sun Baptist Church as a potential partner. They rose to the occasion in a big way. Their youth are participating in the mission, and their adults are leading it, right along with us. Backyard Bible ClubAll the kids have been working really long hours. The week kicked it off with the food distribution--truckloads of it, thanks to help from the local Food Bank and the USDA--last Saturday. We had church at Rising Sun Church on Sunday, which was absolutely marvelous: I've never felt so welcomed or at home! Then on each weekday since, there has been a Backyard Bible Club (led by my wife) at an apartment complex, where 15 young people have committed their lives to Jesus Christ.

There were plans for a Sports Camp, but almost nobody came (it was 95° out), the youth who were planning to work there began "prayer-walking" every street, praying for every home in the community. They have gone into even the toughest neighborhoods, offering to pray together with anyone who was open to sharing a need. They took an afternoon away from Lackey and did the same at Yorktown beach yesterday. There have been some incredible stories of people--residents, construction workers, sanitation workers, a visitor from Russia, policemen--being prayed for, and saying how greatly they appreciated this. In the evenings we've gathered for a meal and for sharing together. The Garage Free Sale will happen on Saturday, and that will end this mission "trip."

So the bond has been forged out of two pastors deciding to come together, and two bodies of believers sharing a common love for Christ, a common task based on Christ's call, and a common vision for reaching out to a community with Christ's love. There is common agreement that this won't end here. I can't imagine any of us wanting it to! Realistically, it won't always remain this incredible--we'll have painful moments as we explore what it means to relate as White and African American. But we're gaining so much from each other, learning from each other about ministry, music, worship, and more, and we're enjoying each other. So I'm sure we'll be worshiping and having fellowship together frequently, and we'll be finding more places to reach out together. We're daring to dream that Lackey can be a better place because of God's people and God's work there.

There, now that didn't seem like it was so hard for me to write, did it? Well, yes, it was and still is; because I've barely skimmed the surface of how we sense God has been at work to make this happen. I haven't begun to mention all the prayer, all the re-commitments to Christ that have been made, all the hugs, all the smiles, or even the just plain, normal, getting-to-know-each-other between members of different races.

I haven't told (but I will now) how there appeared to be no place to hold the Backyard Bible Club, until several of our youth and leaders went around the community praying. Then, my son and a couple older teens stopped at this apartment complex's office to ask them about it, and the managers said, "You know, we were just talking this morning about how great it would be if we could have a Bible club here this summer!"

And I haven't mentioned how incredibly joyful the kids are in spite of working harder and longer than most of them have ever done. We are all just simply amazed.

As we've sung several times this week (led by Rising Sun's truly incredible keyboard player and their Inspirational Choir), "Lord, You are good and Your mercy endures forever... people from every nation and tongue, from generation to generation, we worship You... for who You are: You are good!"

Follow-ups
July 14: Related Post: When Can You Call It a Prayer Answer?
July 15: The partnership outreach week ended as positively as it began, and I'm confident there will be more events like this to report in the future.

Cross-posted at Strategic Christian  

Posted: Thu - July 12, 2007 at 10:25 PM           |


© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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