Lovin' the Hood
by Linda Piepenbrink
She Throws a block party! (And so much more?)
At 9 a.m. 100 women pile out and assemble on
Washington Boulevard, a quiet blocked-off street outside Mt. Sinai
Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. There we?re greeted by Mt. Sinai?s
pastor, William R. Lott Sr. who leads us in prayer and joins Helen and the
volunteers in a rousing gospel song. Then everyone gets busy. Some women
sort clean, donated clothing on tables, some set up the children?s area
with games and prizes, and others set up a nurses? station for health
checkups. Still others work in a hot basement to prepare a crowd-sized
meal of barbecued chicken, hotdogs, beans, and soda.
A large group of women break into groups of three
or four, led by counselors from Mt. Sinai?s evangelism team, and set off
to knock on doors in the surrounding neighborhood. As they hand out fliers
inviting people to the block party, some volunteers linger on porches,
sharing the gospel and praying for the residents they meet.
An hour later, Washington Boulevard is filled with
almost 700 guests who hear Pastor Lott preach the gospel through
loudspeakers. A few local people give their testimonies, such as a young
woman who shares how Jesus Christ set her free from drugs. A drill team
and choir also perform.
Meanwhile, neighborhood children participate in
sack races and bean toss games to win pencils, Bible activity pads, ?Go
With God? key chains, and other prizes. And down the street, indigent
men and grateful grandmothers pick out free clothing.
At 3 p.m., the women file back into the buses to
head for the suburbs, but a quick head count reveals that one of the women
is missing. Several minutes later, Cora Latson, a 77-year-old widow, shows
up with a good excuse for being late; she was sharing the plan of
salvation with a woman who prayed to receive Christ. In fact, 22 people
committed their lives to the Lord Jesus that afternoon.
Helen is exuberant about the day?s success, but
says the block party is just an instrument in God?s hand to help
motivate women to serve wherever there is a need. ?My desire is to see
women start praying, reading and obeying God?s Word, and using their
talents, abilities, resources, or influence to help those in need in the
inner city as well as in the suburbs,? she says.
?Some of us are so spiritually fat we?re
burping,? she explains. ?We?ve read every book, been to every
conference, bought every tape, and know all the popular speakers, but we
need to understand that Jesus Christ said He?s coming quickly. If we
tell the Lord we?re available in any way He wants to use us and that all
we have belongs to Him, then we?ll begin to pay attention to the doors
of opportunity God brings us.?
It took awhile for Helen to realize God wanted her
to serve Him in the inner city. Born in Louisiana, she was deeply
influenced by her preacher grandfather, who read her the Bible everyday
while she sat in his lap. She moved to California with her parents, and
received Christ as a 10-year-old. But she didn?t grow significantly
until her husband, Richard, jointed the Air Force. As they traveled, she
met Christians who discipled her and gave her helpful Christian materials.
When Helen lived in Holland, Ada Airing, a Dutch neighbor, invited her
over for tea and cookies and gave her her first Bible concordance. Another
friend gave Helen a purse-sized Bible. ?I was real opinionated, but
thanks to those women. I started to share Scripture verses instead of just
voicing my own thoughts and ideas,? she says.
After Richard?s time in the service ended in
1981, they moved back to the States with their two elementary-age
children, David and Djuana. Richard started a yardwork business, but it
didn?t pan out, so he worked odd jobs and eventually got a government
position at an Air Force base. But because of rising interest rates and
housing costs, they had no choice but to move to Compton, an inner city in
Los Angeles County made up of African Americans, Samoans, and Mexican
?I went to the inner city kicking and screaming,?
Helen recalls. ?I told the Lord, I don?t
want to move here because of the crime. I don?t want my children exposed
to this type of life.
?I didn?t even put up curtains,? she says.
?I tacked sheets to the windows because I was sure God would move us
Eventually a friend came to visit from the
Netherlands and said, ?Miz Helen, you might as well take these sheets
down and put up some curtains, because you?re not going until God moves
Although Helen still hoped to leave soon, she took
the advice and decided to make the best of the situation. She sat on the
porch of their tiny house and invited neighbors to pull up a chair and
visit. Imitating her friend Ada Airing, she offered tea in pretty teacups
and talked about the Lord Jesus. She became more active in her church,
located three doors away.
In time she befriended and discipled 10 women who
became lifelong prayer partners. Helen shared the resources she?d come
across from her travels. They learned to pray together from reading What
Happens When Women Pray by Evelyn Christenson, held simple Friendship
Bible coffees, and led neighbors to Christ by sharing the ?Four
Spiritual Laws? and other witnessing materials from Campus Crusade for
One neighbor, Barbara, kept to herself, until Helen
waved to her from her porch one day. ?Hi, my name is Miz Helen. Come on
over.? They started talking, and visiting each other in their homes.
Helen eventually led her to the Lord and encouraged her to read through
the Bible. Soon Barbara?s live-in boyfriend also received Christ, and
Helen also reached out to the kids in her
neighborhood by starting a ?birthday cake calendar.? Teenage boys
would sign their name on the date of their birthday, and Helen, who?d
taken a cake decorating class, would make them the cake of their choice on
their birthday. There was only one condition: each of them had to memorize
Scripture verses, such as Ecclesiastes 12:1??Remember now thy Creator
in the days of thy youth??and listen to Helen share the gospel before
taking the cake home. As a result, several young men, including some ?gang
bangers,? came to know the Lord, and poor families began celebrating
their kids? birthdays again.
About that time, when her daughter was 10, Helen
and Richard had a ?surprise blessing,? a son named Michael. Money was
tight, so her prayer partners pitched in to buy ingredients for the
birthday cakes. Eventually Helen even made cakes for some of the adults.
?I was amazed at how many men had never had a birthday cake,? she
Helen also held backyard Bible clubs for children
and invited teenagers to help serve punch and dramatize Bible stories. ?That
way teenagers heard the gospel, too.?
When Helen began to notice that the major
ministries never came to the inner city to help them grow spiritually, she
and several of her prayer partners sat around the kitchen table one night,
crying out to God. ?Lord, don?t you care about us in the inner city??
Not long after that, she attended a Christian
conference in Laguna Beach, where she met Bible teacher Kay Arthur, who
invited her and her friend Joyce Jackson to get further training at
Precept Ministries in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as guests. And Kay Arthur,
in turn, has come to Los Angeles County twice to teach people in the inner
city how to study the Bible.
Despite efforts to transform the neighborhood, many
children and young men in Compton were lured into making money from
selling drugs. One day in 1983, Helen?s husband was stabbed while trying
to get a drug pusher to get off their porch, and their daughter, Djuana,
witnessed it. The wound wasn?t too serious, but seeing the assault
impacted Djuana?s life; she determined to attend medical school so that
she could help people in the inner city. When Helen?s son, David, began
?gang banging? and selling drugs, Helen reminded the Lord, Isn?t
this why I told you I didn?t want to move here?
But through the experience, Helen began to identify
more fully with the people around her. ?I could understand the
heartbreak of a mother watching her child go astray. I learned to stop
judging and started listening to people. I developed compassion in my
heart, because I saw that Jesus died for them, just as He did for me.?
Helen had envisioned a more sophisticated ministry
somewhere else, but now saw that it was God?s will for her to minister
to the inner city. ?I finally told the Lord, Okay,
God, don?t move me a day sooner or keep me a day longer than Your
perfect will. But while I?m here, I want You to use me according to Your
glory and Your honor.
?When I realized I was there by divine
appointment, my attitude changed,? she says. ?Being in the inner city
taught me to love people unconditionally. And because I?ve been there, I
know how to pray for children who run away or get into trouble?and their
When Helen saw a Newsweek article on the
drug trade, she distributed copies to her 10 prayer partners and began
praying for the drug lords nearly every day. ?Their drugs were impacting
our neighborhood,? she says. ?I read not long ago that almost all of
those men?s drug trade was destroyed or disrupted. Some of the men died
or went to prison.?
Helen also founded Called to Leadership Training
Conferences, which grew out of her prayer partnerships, and works with
AD2000/Christian Women United to inspire and train Christians to pursue
kingdom work. ?It?s time to wake up in America. Death is sure, life is
very short, and we need to redeem the time and use what we have for Christ?s
glory, so that others might want to know Him,? she says. ?The Bible
tells us to share the gospel, to feed those who are hungry, to clothe the
naked, to help the widow and the orphans?those who don?t have fathers?and
to remember those who are in jail,? she adds. ?Now if we just do that,
we?ll be busy til Jesus comes!?
Reprinted by permission, Virtue.