June 6th, 2010
We have been ministering to residents of the drug and prostitution racked slum known as The Bluff for eight weeks now. We were led to go there by Mary, to whom we have been ministering for over a year. As our Bible studies in church buildings had not given us the response we had prayed for and as it appeared to be the Lord’s will that we discontinue that effort, Mary insisted that we needed to go to the heart of the problem, “out to the highways and byways,” as she kept saying, quoting our Lord.
Mary herself was delivered from her own addiction to heroin as the result of a stroke which left her in a coma for 28 days, and she constantly encourages others with addictions to get themselves into treatment centers.
Mary’s now-deceased husband was the drug kingpin in The Bluff, so even though Mary now lives in the old Imperial Hotel, which has been turned into low income apartments, everyone down there knows her and knows the difference that being clean has made to her as she loudly gives the praise to God and calls everyone to come and hear the gospel.
Driving into this neighbourhood, comprising broken down houses, boarded up buildings, and streets littered with trash including old mattresses and broken furniture, is somewhat breathtaking. Folk, including some homeless people who have taken up residence in abandoned buildings, and heroin-addicted men and women, are hanging around in groups on street corners or on porches, looking menacingly at us as we pass by, which is very intimidating. Their reaction is not surprising, as it has been made clear to us a couple of times by residents there that they are suspicious that we may be police informants. When Mary is with us, however, as we drive to the derelict church building, park and get out of the car, it is less intimidating than when we have only people from the northern suburbs with us.
This past Lord’s Day Bob, Stephen McCollum (visiting with the RP Global Missions Team), Frank and I, along with Mary, enjoyed a most exciting and blessed time. All day the weather had been stormy, and as we were driving in and out of rain for the fifty minute drive down GA 400 we wondered whether, for the first time, we would be unable to meet outdoors. Naturally, as we were driving, I was praying that the Lord would divide the rain clouds and give us a clear patch of sky so that the gospel could continue to be proclaimed, even though I knew that, in his providence, that may not be his will.
As we arrived and started talking to folk, inviting them to come to hear the Word of God, we were warmed by the reception we received. We split up to talk to people, with Bob going in one direction, Stephen in another, Frank and I in another, and Mary hugging many of her old friends, pleading with them to “come to church” on the steps of the old church building. Between us we cause quite a stir at that intersection which has one of the highest crime rates in the country, and we are coming to be recognized and even anticipated. One of the men, Willie Dyck, a Vietnam veteran who has attended a couple of times was extremely excited to see us again. He had brought his friend Cass along, having told him about Frank’s teaching and our personal interest in him and his family. A group of men that Frank and I approached said that they weren’t interested in attending, but a couple of them thanked us for coming each week, and one even said that it’s great that we “come down from the north” to preach to “poor folks like us.” The fact that he knew that we come down from the north shows that word about us has got around.
As we walked over to the steps to begin, I looked up to see a patch of blue sky and a few white fluffy clouds overhead. I was so excited, and thankful that the Lord had given us a dry patch, and I must have had the biggest smile on my face! We began by singing a couple of hymns as loudly as we could to attract people, and we soon had a total of fourteen in attendance, the biggest number so far. Stephen led the study from Ephesians chapter two. He used our white-board to emphasize his main points, and he did a really superb job, especially as he needed to interact with various members of the group as they candidly sought clarifications and asked questions. He also did well as he had to deal with loud, “souped-up” engine noise from cars and motorbikes (not to mention the extremely loud rap “music” from open car windows) as they went by. One or two of our group wandered off during the study, notably when a fight broke out round the corner. A young woman, Nakisha, for whom we have been praying, approached us during the study. She didn’t want to stay but asked if we would continue to pray for her. She wants to get off drugs and stay out of jail.
As Stephen’s presentation was coming to a close, a gentle rain started to fall and I wondered if we were going to be rained out before we could sing the twenty-third Psalm and pray at the end. However, it eased off again and we were able to complete the time as planned.
Our elder Bob Shapiro offered the closing prayer after asking for requests which varied from a new-born grandchild having already had one operation and needing more, to the most common one of being relieved from addiction.
After the study several of the group stayed around to talk to us, including Melissa who, like Nakisha, desires to be released from her bondage to addiction. One thing that is so noticeable in the Bluff is that, unlike the ritzy suburbs, most folk know that they are sinners in need of a Saviour. This makes it a privilege to minister to them.
As we drove away from the area it started to rain again, and shortly thereafter the heavens opened and it poured so heavily that visibility was drastically reduced and road conditions became a bit dicey. In our rear view mirrors we could see black, thunderous clouds receding into the distance as we headed out of the city.