Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Three Churches That Demonstrate Ways To Do Mercy Ministry

Photo Credit: Paul Hedges
Lifeway Research recently completed its study of the largest and fastest growing churches in America for 2012. Lifeway president Ed Stetzer shares some of these findings in a recent post and highlights three churches that seek to serve the marginalized of society.

Stetzer says this:
"The past several years have seen a needed return to biblical compassion and action to help those affected by injustice. Organizations that fight sex trafficking and human trafficking and promote adoption and mercy ministries dot the church landscape. Many of the churches on this year's list are excelling in this area and raising the standard for all churches. 
Vineyard Community Church of Cincinnati is heavily involved in mercy ministry. Although that particular label has never been used, Kande Wilson, senior director of Outward Focused Ministries, says: "Helping the poor is part of the DNA of the church. It has been a part of who we are for 27 years." 
In a myriad of ways, Vineyard brings the Gospel to the poor, homeless and others combating life's struggles. In the tougher areas of the city, the church distributes food, clothes, hygiene items and more. 
"There are lots of groups that serve food," Wilson says. "If anyone wants food, they can get it. We have a group that is committed to helping people who have made the decision to get out of transiency. There are people from our church who have been deeply involved in the lives of the poor and homeless for 14 years. They are downtown every week-- rain or shine, holidays, snow, whatever. They do ministry on Christmas. This longevity is a key factor to gaining trust. Our members view these hurting people as their own congregation." 
For many years, Vineyard Community Church had an on-campus ministry that was "a food pantry on steroids," Wilson recalls. "In 2007, we did the Luke 4 Challenge, focusing our capital campaign on our city, our future and our world." As a result, the church expanded its ministries to provide help for the whole person. "This meant bringing divorce care, lost job ministry, homeless ministry, and others similar to these under one roof," Wilson says. "This was our outreach to the city."
Glen Berteau, senior pastor of Calvary Temple Worship Center in Modesto, Calif., cites not only specific biblical texts like the Great Commission and Ezekiel 16:14, but a biblical template as well: the Old Testament city of Nineveh. "Our social justice ministry is called Nineveh Outreach because Nineveh was the only biblical city that completely came to the Lord," Berteau says. "We want to see our city saved. I believe if that can happen then, it can happen here and now. 
"Nineveh Outreach provides food and clothes for our volunteers to distribute when they visit more than 30 parks every week. For Modesto Park alone, we distributed $5.5 million dollars in food last year. We also send out a nonprofit mobile medical and dental truck to help kids. We received a letter from the local police department telling us the crime rate in our area declined as a result of our ministries. 
"We also run Without Permission, a ministry that stands against human trafficking, which is a big problem in our area. Calvary Temple paid the fee to procure our local police department a state grant. Now they are able to send patrols specifically to safeguard against human trafficking." Berteau sees beauty as the core of outreach: "Our world is attracted by beauty. If the church would become beautiful, the world would be attracted to it. Beauty means reaching out to people as they are--seeing each of them as one of God's masterpieces."
Street GRACE, which 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., helped start, is the only organization dedicated to eradicating commercial sexual exploitation of children "that leads people on a comprehensive path to leave a social injustice," says Executive Director Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson. 
DeLuca-Johnson explains: "Our comprehensive path includes awareness, education, engagement and social change. Currently Street GRACE has 80 partner churches in Georgia. We are now moving into Tennessee and Alabama. We are blessed to have 1,950 volunteers at some level in Georgia alone. Recently, the Department of Education contracted with us to present information to all the teachers and school staff in Georgia. This training includes not only how to help children, but also how to stop the demand. We include legislative efforts to get laws changed. For example, through the year 2000, the law in Georgia for sexual exploitation of a minor was a misdemeanor with a $50 fine. As a result of our efforts, the penalty is now a $100,000 fine and up to life in prison."
To read the rest of his post please click here.

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