There is a lot of drama in the Bluff. Sometimes it seems as if we are bit players in a sad and sleazy soap-opera: “As The Bluff Turns”, perhaps. Among the cast of characters are drug lords and their customers including addicted mothers who, with their live-in boyfriends, are busy raising the next generation of addicts. Also on the set are men and women who were either attending college or enjoying good careers believing they had control over their drug use until they hit bottom and became homeless, hopeless, thieves and prostitutes. And then there’s the broken down, withered old man who, apparently, used to be Gladys Knight’s valet (of Gladys Knight and the Pips), enjoying a lavish lifestyle, even traveling round the world with the late ’60’s singing group, reduced to begging for a dollar. The people to whom we minister are many and varied, skilled at appealing for money to feed their lifestyle either by eliciting sympathy or by using lies, deceit and manipulation. But they have one thing in common—the need to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Towards the end of the year attendance at our Bible study started going down and we were not sure why. We have but few who attend on a regular basis. One is Linda Mitchell, a former addict, to whom we have been ministering with considerable practical as well as spiritual help. Now, however, she is a committed participant and assistant. Also regular in their attendance are Jenario (15) and Miyani (11) whom we have mentioned before, who are picked up by our faithful helper, Amy Work. Their home has been without electricity for a while because their almost-blind mother’s disability income is taken by her live-in boyfriend to buy drugs. But no one else, it seemed, was committed to the work, coming to our regular meeting place (the steps of a derelict AME church building) only when it suited them or when they needed something.
Having been ministering in the Bluff for more than 2½ years, it seemed to Pastor Frank that it was time to start conducting a worship service in place of the Bible study one Sunday every month. Pastor Ray Beckham, of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church, offered his sanctuary for the purpose, and a date was set for October 14th. It was a gorgeous autumn evening, and we had 15 people in attendance at the first service of Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship. However, because Pastor Beckham was unable to get to the building to open it, we met outside on the steps and patio.
It was a huge blessing to be present at that service, and I don’t think that anyone who was there could ever forget that time of worship in a true Covenanter outdoor setting. We even had someone join us from off the street who would probably not have come inside had we been meeting indoors. In November we did meet inside the building and had eight people present. That evening, however, Pastor Beckham conceded that he would not be available to open up for us every time. So, with it now getting cold and dark at that time of evening, we felt that it would be most sensible to find another indoor location.
On the last Sunday in November we heard a number of gunshots near our location just as we were packing up to leave, which added to the resolve to move indoors. The Lord led us to the Muslim owner of a convenience store, appropriately called Grace Grocery Store, just three blocks away from our usual meeting place.
Jibri had heard of our need and came along to the Bible study on the evening of December 2nd after which he offered us a place to meet at the back of his store. The room, which used to be a restaurant, has no electricity so we run an extension cord from the shop to give us some light and a bit of heat.
Our first service there took place on December 9th, and we had 16 people present for worship. We had been intending only to use the grocery store for a monthly worship service or when the weather was inclement, returning to the steps for Bible study on the other evenings in spite of the cold and gloom. But the Lord led us to continue meeting indoors through the winter months, holding an actual worship service every Lord’s Day. This was an exciting development and one which we had been praying about for a long time.
On December 16th it was pouring with rain but, still, 11 people attended the service. On December 23rd, at Linda Mitchell’s suggestion, we offered a meal to the residents of the area following worship. Linda took hot food and, given the distance and the lack of electricity to reheat anything, I took cold food supplied by the ladies from Northminster. That Lord’s Day we had about 20 folk in the service, and more came later for the meal. We are particularly excited that Jibri has attended at least a part of those three services in December. A former Methodist who converted to Islam in college, he listens intently, says “Amen” when Frank prays in Jesus’ name, and, when he is called away to the shop, pumps Frank later for the details of what he missed in the sermon. And, since we have been meeting indoors, we have been heartened by the regular attendance of two young brothers, Nathan (10) and Nelson (6), from just one block away. Both boys enjoy being with us, and Nathan really pays attention. Rose, a resident of the area who prepares the room for the evening and tidies up afterwards, also attends, and there are others who have indicated a desire to come on a regular basis. So the move to a weekly worship service indoors seems to have received the Lord’s blessing, and we continue to seek his will with regard to how to proceed in the future.