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