June 27, 2010
Last Lord’s Day morning Frank had been invited by Pastor Ray Beckham to preach at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in the English Avenue neighbourhood which contains the high-crime area known as The Bluff. The pastor’s brother is Kelvin, who has been attending our Bible studies. We were greeted warmly, as Pastor Beckham introduced Frank. This introduction lasted for more than five minutes, with Pastor Beckham detailing not only how he first heard of Frank but all the other times they have been in contact with each other. He spoke in quite lengthy fashion about the experience they shared at the English Avenue Neighborhood Association meeting in early June, to which Frank had taken R. P. Missions Team member, Stephen McCollum, visiting from Ireland. This was the second EANA meeting Frank had attended in his effort to be more informed about and involved in the attempt to clean up the neighborhood. That meeting had been considerably disrupted by a fellow who kept rudely interrupting the moderator of the meeting (Pastor Beckham). At one point Frank got to his feet to confirm the authority and rulings of the moderator, and was verbally attacked by this person who, among other things, hurled racial slurs at Frank, accusing him of being a white racist. An off-duty policeman in the audience threatened to call for back-up if the fellow did not stop. Everyone was very embarrassed and apologised to Frank and Stephen. After the meeting, this fellow asked for forgiveness from Frank and also asked Frank to pray for him. Pastor Beckham relayed the entire story with the editorial comment that Frank had stood firm in supporting the moderator in a situation that was tumultuous and he didn’t back down. He also emphasized the way that the Lord had brought this person to a point of repentance.
Frank preached on Ephesians 2, with the title “But God…”, the sermon lasting close to an hour. The congregation was very lively, vocalizing their appreciation for the points that Frank was making. This in turn made Frank more lively in the pulpit that I have ever seen him. His gestures and the range and inflection of his voice were more pronounced than usual. When he finished, Pastor Beckham told those assembled that they need to understand that there is more than one way to preach, and that what they had just experienced was called expository preaching. He went on to explain what that meant, saying that they will never read Ephesians 2 again without remembering the words that Pastor Smith had preached. He also remarked, to the vocal concurrence of the congregation, that it doesn’t matter whether one is Baptist, Presbyterian or whatever; it is the truth that counts. There followed a lengthy altar call in which four people came forward while the congregation sang from memory a song that we did not know. These four were led in the “sinner’s prayer” and then prayers were offered for them before we were dismissed. Frank was thanked for his message by just about everyone there (about 60 or so people) and we both received numerous hugs and handshakes. We were given cold drinks and invited to stay for lunch. However, we had already arranged to drive the half hour up to eat lunch with our son and his family and rest before heading back down to The Bluff for the Bible study.
Thankfully it was not as hot as the previous two weeks. Earlier that day we had been pleasantly surprised to see that the weeds around the steps had been cut and trash picked up. Only four people joined Bob and ourselves, including Willie Dyck and C.J., but again, there was lively interaction and great discussion. We are hopeful that Wallace, who was new to the group, will return. Mike missed the study having not noticed the time but came up as we were departing, promising to try and keep track of the time in future. Prayer was requested for Little Rotten, a young man about 18 years old who has fathered two children, is thin, diabetic and very sickly, who received four bullet wounds one day last week. He is in the hospital and Mike doesn’t know how he’s doing. That is just one example of life in The Bluff.
We do have some troubling news to report. First of all, the first Sunday in June, Mary “disappeared” for a while during the Bible study. When we found her she refused to let us take her home, insisting that she wanted to stay there the night. Unable to force her to change her mind, we had to leave her there. Two days later she called and told Frank that she cannot go back to The Bluff again. Our assumption is that while there she had fallen into temptation.
Secondly, you remember Kelvin’s excitement at his having made it through detox, and his pronouncement, “I’m clean, I’m clean”. This gave him hope that he could find a job, and excitement in the fact that his wife, who had left him when he was on drugs, now appeared to be seeking reconciliation. However, about a week later, things went downhill for him. He was promised a job through a family member but it was eventually given to a relative of another worker at the restaurant. And his wife broke the news to him that she had divorced him back in April. He has not attended the Bible study since then, but we did see him at the service at his brother’s church last Lord’s Day morning. He promised that he would be at the study in the evening but he did not show up and is not answering phone calls.
This may well leave Frank and me without the assistance of someone from the neighbourhood. We had always believed that we needed an African- American with us in order to be accepted by the community, but our experience over the last two Lord’s Days has shown that the Lord can use us as we are. We may feel that our ministry has been weakened but the Lord can take even our feeble efforts and use them for his glory.