For nearly twenty years, I served at a church in a downtown area surrounded by many families in low socioeconomic situations. We often had trouble with children entering the building unsupervised. We would invite them to our services, but it seemed they only wanted to be there when they were not allowed—typical for any children roaming the neighborhood and looking for something to do!
The biggest temptation was a large gymnasium with a full basketball court, which they passed by each day and could look inside but were not allowed to enjoy. Looking back now, we realize the evangelistic opportunity and wonder why it took so many years to see the mission field God had placed us in.
After several incidents and many complaints from church members, we knew something had to be done. One day after school, I saw a group of young boys riding their bikes up and down the outside steps of the chapel. My first reaction was the imperfect, human one—I was worried that they would damage the chapel columns or be injured themselves. Immediately after, though, I felt convicted to talk to them about the Lord. Miraculously, I corralled them; most of the time they just ran from me, and they ran fast! That day, they listened as I shared the Good News and listened intently.
A couple of months later, I baptized two of the boys and was the catalyst to launch a neighborhood ministry called F.A.N. Club (Friends and Neighbors). The children came on Saturday mornings to play in the gym, participate in crafts, engage in a Bible study, and receive a sack lunch. Most weeks we had over 150 children and twenty to thirty volunteers.
F.A.N. Club has been an integral part of the community transformation that has taken place. Through this ministry, a thrift store was established to help meet the physical needs of local families. KidsHope, a tutoring program designed to assist boys and girls with their academic needs, was also formed.
Ministering to the neighborhood children was a defining moment in the history of the church. It seemed God’s favor was given. The church became one of the largest per capita in the nation. Thousands of boys and girls have been impacted, as well as their families, because a church took seriously the command “Love your neighbor.”
“A Church Without Walls” is the vision of BridgeWay and that is our hearts desire. This does not mean we are perfect, but it is God’s heart and it should be our heart as well.
If you struggle with prejudice/racism (as I do at times):
- Acknowledge and ask God to forgive you
- Repent (turn the other way)
- Look for ways to show God’s love to others who are different than you