Saturday, January 3, 2009

Thinking of creative ways to use an old church building for the glory of the Lord

Three years ago we came to Troy at the invitation of Rev. Perry Jones, director of the Capital City Rescue Mission, and several Conservative Baptist leaders who wanted to see the recently closed Sixth Avenue Baptist Church continue as a local church, but recontextualized for urban/inner-city ministry. For me, it meant moving back to the very neighborhood I was born and raised in. For my wife and children it was a whole new thing.
After praying about it for several weeks, we felt the Lord leading us to go to Troy. Even knowing that Sixth Avenue Baptist had closed, that we'd be taking over an empty, century old 10,000 sq.ft. church building that is showing its age, that there was very little money left in their bank account (which was pretty much gone by the end of 2005-06 winter heating season), and that the church building was located smack dab in the middle of Troy's darkest, most distressed (so they say) neighborhood, did not hinder us from making the 25 mile relocation from Schenectady to Troy.
The first year was sort of a honeymoon period. We closed down the building for a short period of time and began to assess what needed to be done to begin refitting the building for inner-city ministry. We saw the extra large kitchen, complete with a mint condition, ten burner Vulcan gas range to be an asset, and the vision of (0ne day) serving a daily community meal began to scratch its way into my brain. We gathered up a bunch of old furniture which proved to be genuine antiques and hired an auctioneer to sell them, which gave us some additional start up funds. We then began the laborious task of ripping out old, water-stained, mildew ridden carpeting, along with a rotted basement floor and wooden partitions. The basement had been divided into several smaller rooms with wooden partial walls, which had become dry rotted and permeated with the stench of mold. We began meeting weekly, as a small group, for worship and prayer. There were seven of us at that point; me and my family, and three good friends who chose to join us in those early days of ministry. In the summer of 2006 we filed DBA papers with Renssalaer County and became known as The CORE Church of Troy. It was also during this first year that my family and I moved to Troy. It was not that big of a move for me, but my young sons had been uprooted from the only home they had known and placed into a new public school with teachers and kids they didn't know. It took some time, but we all adjusted to our new mission field. Three years into this and we're all making new friends and learning what it looks like to be missionaries in our community.
Year two: we welcomed mission teams from West Lebanon, New Hampshire, who came and blessed us. They painted the sanctuary and front entry vestibule and helped us scrub this old church building from top to bottom (on the inside of course). They also helped us with some neighborhood outreach, which brought many neighborhood children into our church for the first time. Our friends from Westerlo Baptist Church, Westerlo, N.Y. joined us on many occasions for work parties, as well as our first Christmas outreach, through which we were able to give some holiday cheer to more than 200 neighborhood children. We hosted our first block party which we called "Taking it to the Streets." Donna Walsh (now Donna Munafo) and her band, 4ever1, partnered with us for this event, along with Victorious Life Christian Church and many other local pastors and churches who came and helped us serve our community.

Year three: We continued to draw more and more neighborhood children, to the point where the adults were out numbered 2-1. This was a challenge we did not anticipate. Especially challenging was the fact that many of these kids were receiving little discipline in their homes and were bringing that lack of discipline with them to church, along with hungry stomachs. We prayerfully accepted this challenge and began serving lunch every Sunday after church, along with offering children's church and CORE/kids events like movie days, crafts, outdoor events, etc.
Halfway through year three, in the summer 0f 2008, we were introduced to Rev. Willie Bacote, who had voiced his burden for doing more to make the community a better place for the kids who live here, and a Divinely appointed and anointed parthership began. The CORE Church and Missing Link Street Ministry began hosting a three day per week "Feed a Kid" ministry, providing hot, nutritious meals to neighborhood children and their families. What was originally designed to be a summer meal program began to draw large numbers; as many as 150-200. We also began to draw opposition from certain community leaders who preferred that we take the meals and related children's activities "indoors," as they were displeased with the amount of traffic and noise our outdoor ministry lot was drawing. Enduring their opposition, we continued to do the work God had commissioned us to do. As the summer heat began to fade and autumn came knocking, so did the need to continue this community meal, and we did eventually move it inside of the CORE Church building when it became too cold to serve outdoors.
The number of children and families coming to the Feed a Kid meals has not dwindled; in fact, we have been regularly seeing new families come. We connected with local caterers, Old Daley Inn, who have graciously and faithfully been cooking and delivering meals every Wednesday since we began. Mike Martin and his construction company have also given generously every other Friday with pizza and wings. Additionally, Mr. Martin donated his time and materials to repair a leak in our church roof which had been causing some serious problems. There are many other local merchants and businesses who have given of their time and/or resources to see that children in this community, and their families, so not go to bed hungry. We must not forget to thank and mention the many volunteers, who have come to every meal, ready to serve and give of their time to feed these kids. This three day a week community meal has become a labor of love and joy for all of us. What is happening to a group of Christ followers, who were strangers six months ago, is purely and totally God's design. A half year into this and we are beginning to connect with many of the families who are coming to the meals. This past Christmas we co-labored once again for our first annual kids Christmas banquet. The need and response we received proved to be too large for our church building and was moved to the Troy Boys and Girls Club. Many children were served a top quality buffet meal, along with their families. The children received gifts and their parents had the opportunity to shop for toys while their children ate and enjoyed the party, complete with live music from our friends 4ever1. We also gave out Bibles and Christmas story/puzzle books.
2008 has come and gone. 2009 is here. We will continue to live as Christ lived, by loving and serving others the way He did, and commanded His followers to do also. We will see new doors for effective ministry open to us. Ideas of expanding to a seven day per week ministry, with an afterschool club, mentoring, recovery groups, etc. And we will watch as a community of faith take shape; as God gives the increase. There is much work to be done, both inside this old church building, and outside in the community that surrounds it. We are poised to see the hand of Almighty God sweep through this community, as we remain faithful and obedient to His call to serve "the least of these."
Will you continue to pray for us? Will you also pray about helping us financially, with your best gift. Feel free to contact Pastor Dave Lewis or Pastor Willie Bacote anytime.