Mission Cleveland

by Michelle L. Levigne

By now it no longer matters if you?re ready for Y2K.

The big question now: Is Cleveland ready for October 2000?

That is the date when the welfare system as the United States presently knows it will end. In Cleveland alone, over 70,000 people will be dropped.

No more money. No more help. For the homeless, the helpless, the widows and orphans, it will seem like no one cares.

No hope?

If Mission Cleveland has its way, there will be hope, and people who care. And the churches of Cleveland will be ready to take up where the government failed.

Pastors Kevin and Janice Christian of Mission Cleveland/Embassy Life Center want not only to reach out to the people around them, they want to warn pastors and churches to be ready to help as well.

The Problem With Welfare

Until now, the government concentrated on a few physical needs, and churches mostly met only the spiritual needs. The whole person wasn?t ministered to and helped to change. As a result, poverty has increased despite all the money thrown at it.

Mission Cleveland/Embassy Life Center reaches the whole person: to change minds and souls; teach basic life skills; equip people to get a job to take care of themselves; fill physical needs; and change their environment.

Will the Body of Christ be ready to help? Or will judgment fall on God?s people because they fail His commission?

This goes beyond dropping money in the plate on Sunday morning. Christians must get into the trenches.

In Acts, the apostles acknowledged that the physical needs of the widows and orphans were just as important as their spiritual needs. Helping the whole person has always been the duty of the Church.

In Matthew, Jesus blessed those who helped the thirsty, hungry, sick and naked, and condemned those who ignored them. What will Christ say to the churches in Cleveland after October 2000? Will He say He never knew them?

Contrary to "Prosperity Theology," God doesn?t bless His people so they can have everything they want. God blesses His people to equip them to meet the needs of others.

As Pastor Kevin said, the government cutoff isn?t a negative thing, because God never meant for the government to take care of the people. It?s a positive thing, because now the Church can do its job. God?s hand is moving, and the churches of Cleveland must choose whether they will be used of God to help the hungry and thirsty and homeless ? or maintain their budgets and fancy facilities. If you can?t say Amen, just say ouch.

Vision of Mission Cleveland

Being impoverished is in the spirit, not just "bad luck." When Jesus spoke of the man who had a demon cast out of him, nothing was brought in to fill up the man?s soul, then the demon brought seven more to fill the void.

Mission Cleveland/Embassy Life Center wants to fill up impoverished lives at all levels: Spiritual, physical, and emotional.

They can?t reach everybody, but they believe they can get to most. Resources and facilities are limited, so they can?t maintain the needs of the people they do reach, despite the volunteers and organizations partnering with them. That is where the process breaks down. Some people do return to the environment they are trying to escape.

The process does work. They simply need more people to work with them, to help with supplies and funding and prayers.

It takes more than money to show God?s love. Helping people find a job or filling their cupboard with groceries is more effective than handing them money. Mission Cleveland has learned to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit?s leading, to discern the real needs. Almsgiving is the largest part of the budget, and often the rest of the budget is shorted to help. Sometimes the people who receive money or other help are never seen again, but Pastor Kevin estimates 75% of the people they reach do come back. Once needs are met, people are able to listen and see the love of God?s people, and eventually they will become a member of God?s family.

Why call their church Embassy Life Center? Because they teach basic life skills. The people who come to them don?t know how to cook, open a bank account or even wash dishes. They don?t know what it means to take care of children. Embassy Life Center wants to open a school, just to teach people how to live.

They have a special vision for young women, to set up a counseling center, a safe place to bring them and teach them how to live. Some women are living on the street with babies, feeding them cookies and Pepsi because they know nothing about nutrition. Most women on the street are victims and most have children. They can?t get a job because they can?t leave the children alone, and they don?t have the money to leave the children with someone. It?s a vicious cycle.

The first step is to give the people shelter and the comfort and security of knowing they don?t have to sleep outside anymore.

The second step includes a discipleship program with the life skills. Non-profit groups give life skills, but not spiritual guidance. Mission Cleveland will combine the two and help these people change so they can become a positive force in the community.

Third step: reunite families. This is an area greatly in need of healing. Pastor Kevin estimated 30-40% of the people living on the streets do have families, but they don?t get along. There?s a lot of bitterness, broken homes, and a need for forgiveness. Many homeless can be reunited with their families if forgiveness can be administered.

Touch one person ? an entire family could change. Usher that changed person back into the mainstream, with skills, a healed family, no dependence on alcohol or drugs, and with a spiritual foundation ? the community can be changed.

The main thing is to show them the love of Christ, unconditionally. As Pastor Janice stated: "Love you out of your situation to a better place."

Walls

Part of Mission Cleveland?s vision is to create a new environment for the people escaping life on the street: a hotel for the impoverished. They are refurbishing part of a warehouse, which will someday be their church building and the hotel. If need be, they will conduct church services in the lobby of the building, and let the homeless live in the remainder.

Many churches are growing at a fantastic rate and expanding their facilities to meet the needs of their congregations. But is there room for the poor in those buildings?

Everyone is eagerly waiting for Jesus to return, but as Pastor Kevin said, He won?t bring the people who tithe ? He will bring in the needy, the filthy and ragged, the ones who make many uncomfortable. This is a challenge the Church must be ready to face. Even today, some people are asked to sit in the back of the church because their clothes aren?t nice or they smell bad. Some people are even ?requested? not to come back to certain churches because they don?t dress well enough to fit in with the congregation.

As Pastor Janice said, Christians must tear down the walls that have grown around them and their ministries. The world can?t see who or what Christians are supposed to be. Not that the Christians inside aren?t performing as God wishes, but the walls won?t let anyone see. If the walls remain, people in need will be afraid to go to the Church for help. This must not happen. Remember that through everything, Jesus remained touchable. Pastor Kevin pointed out that when Mary broke the alabaster jar of perfume over Jesus, He was in Simon the Leper?s house? scripture doesn?t say if Simon was healed or not. Jesus went to the needs. Nowadays, Christians are so afraid of disease and discomfort, they are untouchable.

The new millennium will demand that Christians become touchable. Christians can?t just sit back and invite people in ? they have followed Jesus? example by going outside, touching people and bringing them in.

Mission Cleveland/Embassy Life Center has a "come as you are" ministry and message. Pastor Kevin wants the front row of his congregation to have a wide range, economically and culturally. In his church, the well dressed will respect and love the ones in rags.

God focuses on all people, not just certain groups. God wants all to be saved.

Pastors must be prepared for who God will add to their church. God is sending the harvest, but it will not be what many people expect. These are people who should be saved, as God promised ? saved from all things, like oppression, poverty, disease, all the components and consequences of sin.

The media too often portrays Christians as always holding their hands out, asking for more and never giving. Now is the time for the Church as Christ?s body to prepare itself to give and to meet the needs of the country as the crucial cutoff date looms on the horizon. The Church in the United States can meet the needs of all its people. C