February 2018―We have had a very exciting start to the New Year, with an average attendance of 34 which is more than 25% higher than this time last year. A significant part of this increase in numbers has come from newcomers right here in the Bluff.
A new and exciting development is that on the first Lord’s Day in February we launched a morning worship service in addition to our regular afternoon/evening Sunday school and service. With seventeen in attendance in the morning, and twenty different individuals coming in the evening in addition to four “overlaps” which included Pastor Frank and myself, we ministered to thirty-seven people with a total attendance between the two services of forty-one.
Another new development has been the activity of one of the members of our fellowship, Robert, who spends a number of days in Atlanta each week, and has been enjoying talking to residents of the Bluff as he is out and about. He has engaged many people in conversation, even to the point of taking the hungry for a meal and sharing the gospel with them. Over the months this has led to a number of people starting to attend worship on the Lord’s Day and continuing on a regular basis. One of those men recently professed faith in Christ as a result of the witnessing of this man, and under the preaching of Pastor Smith.
Robert has now begun a mid-week meeting for men from the area, and at the conclusion of the first one, they decided to meet again the next morning for breakfast and continue the conversation. He engages in this type of activity almost every day that he is in the neighborhood, thereby exercising a kingdom presence there.
One man who meets with Robert regularly was someone that he had known from twenty-three years ago when he owned a motorcycle shop and this man was one of his customers. He ran into him providentially when he was driving in the area and now they are working together to reach more of the neighborhood for Christ.
We have been extraordinarily blessed by encouragement from a number of people who have visited for worship whilst passing through the area. One of those men, a member of a group of Reformed believers in Birmingham, Alabama, which is desiring to be taken under the care of a presbytery in the RPCNA, wrote a very descriptive account of his visit which, along with photos, was published in the January/February issue of our denominational magazine, the Reformed Presbyterian Witness. For those who do not receive this magazine, we intend to post the article as the next Penny’s Pen.
An encouraging note came from Chandler Fozar, a truck driver passing through from Texas, who wrote the following on his Facebook page:
I want to tell you about the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, a congregation of the RPCNA. APF is in one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta. To say it is a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood would be an understatement. Dr. Frank Smith, a tall, slender, highly educated yet remarkably humble man is the pastor who took me on a ride along.
Every week, he and another member drive through the community picking up people in an old, worn out van and a personal vehicle. “While I was picking up a person there,” he said, “I heard pop, pop, pop, and I turned around and saw men exchanging fire directly behind me.” The tour continued, “That’s where one member was stabbed and stumbled down the street to his death.” One of the people who helps told me the pastor helped rescue one lady from the neighborhood from the arms of her drug dealer.
It worships in one side of a duplex in the same neighborhood. (I promise you I know people who couldn’t bring themselves to cross the threshold and grace the church with their presence.)
There is no seeker friendly stuff here, no dumbing down the music or the message. The pastor faithfully leads worship like he would anywhere else. Do you know how cool it is to see an old guy with a hardened expression, dreadlocks and a cane sing a Psalm a’ capella, and sing well!
Chandler asked us if we would provide a link on our website to his prison ministry, which we are happy to do. It is as follows: http://www.hopeprisonministries.org
Yet another encouragement has come from our new friends the Hollo family. Ben, who recently retired from the Air Force and now flies for Delta Airlines, was excited to discover an RPCNA ministry in Atlanta where he is frequently passing through. Though living in Florida, their entire family was able to worship with us one Lord’s day in February. We have met with Ben on multiple occasions both in worship on the Lord’s day and mid-week for lunch and we have all rejoiced at the encouragement and blessing God has provided us in each other. Ben writes the following:
Having worshiped in Stillwater, OK and been one of the original families in the Enid congregation, moving to different churches with the Air Force I have long desired to sing the Psalms in worship. Therefore, I rejoiced at the Lord’s provision and the opportunity to worship at APF. As many have mentioned the church is a unique mix of diverse social, racial and economic backgrounds. I was thoroughly impressed by God’s work in the lives of the poor, needy, fatherless, and downtrodden people who worship there as well as the love for the body of Christ and faithful service of those driving in from the surrounding area. The adult class before worship was remarkably simple presenting foundational biblical truths to spiritual babes. But then Dr. Smith’s preaching was full, expositing God’s word in a manner that would convict and encourage any lifelong believer yet with a clarity that everyone in the room could understand and attain to. And what a sweet thing to sing the Lord’s song together. This is the gospel in action, and praise God for the work he is doing at APF. Also, if you have the chance, encourage Frank and Penny as they do the dirty work of putting Psalm 41:1 in action! Psalm 74:21.
As a final encouragement let me finish by sharing with you the comment from a lady visiting from out of state:
I was so happy to have been able to visit and see what God is doing in Atlanta through the RP work there. My heart was captivated by the evidences of his mercy in those in attendance from the Bluff and surrounding area. I won’t soon forget those faces and their stories- and the sight and sound of them all, including all those precious children! singing Psalms to God with such reverence and joy. It broke my heart with joy and hope. I trust my memories will stay refreshed through future visits.
As much as by the “regulars” from the area who attend, I was captivated by the quiet commitment of those who are helping you there; the children’s workers and those who help with transport, and help with a hundred other things, I’m sure.
. . . May the Lord bless and bring more and more increase from the labors there; “hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.”