Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Consistency” – A Watchword in Urban Ministry*

Pastor Jesse Shelton, or Pastor J, as he is known in a neighborhood rife with drug dealers and prostitutes, planned on planting a church in Clear Lake. But prayers for an evangelistic outreach led him to one of the lowest income areas of the state -- zip code 77078 -- what some refer to as “The Hole,” off of Mesa and Sterlingshire. Five minutes from North Forest High School, this mixed neighborhood of houses and apartments reveals an exceedingly high number of dropouts and teen pregnancy.

Faithful to his understanding of the biblical mandate to “make disciples,” Pastor J heeded the call and began to make his presence known. Every day.

Since 2007, he and usually 2-3 from that initial prayer group, make the drive of more than 30 minutes. They walk the neighborhood, greeting people whose usual menacing presence is somehow softened at the sight of these faithful believers who have proven they simply want to make Christ known.

“The people love us,” the pastor explained. “The people protect us. We’ve developed relationships with some of the most hard core. Even the people who don’t come respect us. I can leave my car doors open.
“Consistency is the main thing. It wouldn’t be safe if we were only going once a month or once a week. They know we’re committed.”
Ministry looks the same here as in many other areas of the city. Time spent throwing a ball around with youth. Prayer. Small group gatherings in homes to search the Scripture and equip new believers to stand strong and reach their sphere of influence. Baptisms.

But the faces of those attending The Walk Church reflect a deep knowledge of transformation from the inside out. From a life of drugs, they have found freedom.

Calvin, known to the group and the neighborhood as Spider, was the first person of peace God used to open doors. Initially, the group used another church’s facility but soon discovered an apartment’s community center and resident’s house were more conducive to their desire to have a consistent presence among the people.

That consistency is key to helping Pastor J deal with the realities ministering in such a drug ravaged area. Though Spider returned to drugs, Linda soon took his place. Delivered from her own dependency, she now reaches out to her family, neighbors, and her former dealers.

“We like to call her house Solomon’s Porch,” said Pastor J. “We use her house to store our speakers, a freezer of food and our baptism pool. She has become a person of peace on a level I can’t even begin to explain.”

Acknowledging that it is discouraging to see someone like Spider fall, Pastor J, a husband and father of four ages 2-7, returns to that consistency that is a mark of his ministry.

“They are just like family. So, yes, it’s painful for him to get to the point where he didn’t recognize us anymore. But the good thing is that his family still comes – children, mother, brother, and one of his best friends, Skyler, a drug dealer, who has given up all of that and is with us every single day and is in the word. It hurts but we understand that it does happen. Even though he looks at us as the enemy, we still show our face to him.”

Recently, the Baptist Standard highlighted a particular September day when a planned baptism of three believers spontaneously grew to an immersion of more than 40 individuals. < http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12108&Itemid=53>

“Some of them are still with us,” said Pastor J of those who were led to act on faith that day. “And some came a couple of times and didn’t continue.”

For those who remain, the discipleship continues. With a core group of about 15 meeting weekly, the daily bible studies with two to three can last hours.

With a background in video production, Pastor J is currently working on a documentary of stories told by the people he encounters every day. By sharing their words on the Internet as well as on a DVD accompanying a book he’s completed on urban ministry – he wants to send the message to others that “there’s hope, deliverance. Lot of the testimonies are crying out for the churches to come. They are afraid to go to church. They think they will be judged by their appearance.”
When asked what the church outside The Hole can do to respond, Pastor J returned to what led him to the ministry that captured his heart in the beginning. Prayer.

“We always include in our prayers that God would send workers for the harvest. We need leaders out of the community. Please pray.” Pastor J said.

*Feature written for UBA, an association of more than 600 churches in Houston area

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