WANTED:
Prostitutes, Drug Addicts, Alcholics, Homosexuals, Etc

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by Richard Daigle

Clad in jeans and a plaid long-sleeved shirt, her hair rolled up in a bun, Sandy sways to the music at the corner of Ashby and Simpson. The gangling 18-year-old giggles like a youngster, but there's a distant look in her eyes. She can't hide the hurt: Thrown out by her parents, she is a prostitute who plies her trade in one of downtown Atlanta's worst neighborhoods.

Sandy (not her real name), who is white, dances along with the pre-dominantly black crowd on hand for "the party" at this intersection in Police Zone 1, the toughest in Atlanta. The music is loud, and the food, barbecue chicken and mustard greens, is free and piping hot.

Sandy recently asked Jesus into her heart, but she has a long road ahead of her. Because of evangelistic outreaches like Blood ?N? Fire Ministries and Rescue Atlanta, led by Mel Rolls, Sandy and others like her won?t travel that road alone.

?Jesus looked over Atlanta, the inner city, and He wept because He saw the harassed, He saw the oppressed, and there was no one to minister to them,? said David VanCronkhite, 51, founder of Blood ?N? Fire.

For more than a year now, Blood ?N? Fire has not missed a Saturday at Ashby and Simpson. Neither rain nor cold keeps the ministry team away. ?Hugs often melt hard hearts,? VanCronkhite said.

When God called them full-time, VanCronkhite literally walked away from a six-figure salary, and his wife, Janice, a ranked professional tennis player, quit the game.

Friends thought VanCronkhite was crazy when he bought an entire city block, almost four acres across the street from Capitol Homes, a notorious housing project. Valued at $2.8 million, the property was being offered for $1.2 million. VanCronkhite countered at $450,000.

The seller?s attorney commented, ?This is the most asinine thing we?ve ever done,? but he sold the property to a pastor with no church and no money, offering debt-free financing for the first two years. When the first note came due, God miraculously supplied $50,000.

Since then, Blood 'N' Fire has started a church in a warehouse on the property and a training center currently raising up 20 leaders through a nine-month, full-time program that includes teaching and street ministry."Our understanding of church is taking it out to where the people are. That's our heart," VanCronkhite said.

Blood "N" Fire serves about 5,000 hot meals a month. There are basketball courts on the premises. The food and hoops are hooks.

"If they hang with us beyond the basketball and beyond the food, they're going to see Jesus transform their lives," VanCronkhite said.

When asked if American Christians are living up to their scriptural responsibility to minister to the poor, VanCronkhite doesn't hesitate when he answers, "Absolutely not." He exhorts Christians to step out of the safety of suburbia.

"Until you see the poor, you just don't have the fullness of the gospel," he explains. "We think in Suburbia, I've got something to give to the poor, but when you get to the poor, you realize they've got something to give to you, and you have nothing to give to them. The poor don't need the church as much as the church needs the poor."

Just a mile or so from Blood "N" Fire, two blocks from the Atlanta Braves? Turner Field, is Mel Rolls' church. A sign on the door outside reads, "WANTED" Drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, murderers, gang-bangers, pimps, homosexuals, AIDS victims, singles, moms, dads and children. BY: Jesus Christ. You're welcome here!"

Rolls' church is situated amid drugs, violence and prostitution. His youth group is literally a gang. The previous pastor allegedly was fond of drugs and sex.

But when Rolls moved in, community members immediately wondered why a young, white pastor would move there. Drug dealing? A front for a crime ring? It took them a while to realize Rolls meant it when he said, "Jesus loves you."

"We try to live what we preach. We're not out here trying to be something we?re not. We're real," Rolls said.

In the nine years the 40-year-old Rolls has run Rescue Atlanta, the sign on the front of his church has proved to be a genuine message. If congregation members were to empty their pockets, then crack pipes, drugs, guns and passes for X-rated clubs would be among the items they'd possess.

"At every church service I've got drugs in here. At every church service I've got weapons in here and the potential for violence," Rolls said.

"People come to our Bible studies, and they are blown away. Their jaws drop. Because when you come to our Bible studies you've got drug dealers, prostitutes, whacked-out people, and normal people"

A combination of street people and church members from outside the community make up the "On Fire Choir." The voices may not always be on key, Rolls said, but their zeal for God is strong.

Sometimes drug dealers will come to see why former clients have stopped buying from them. Once a man realized he was sitting next to someone who had shot him years ago. The two began arguing, a scuffle ensued, and they were both escorted out. Danger is part of this ministry.

Rolls says he routinely ministers in housing projects where police say, "You can go in there, but we're not going in to get you out."

Rescue Atlanta serves meals every day except Monday, more than 13,000 meals per month. Some people "dine and dash, grace and blaze," Rolls said. "But many stay for ministry. If these doors were open 24 hours, they wouldn't leave. This is a place of peace for them to get out of the craziness."

After a person is freed from his old ways, it's best for him to move out?away from temptation?to stay free. But many return, like Robert. Drugs had ravished his life but Robert got saved, cleaned up and eventually moved to the suburbs. One day, God dealt with him about going back to see Rolls.

"It's so great to see a guy totally come full circle. He's got a wife, two kids; he's tithing; and he comes up to me every week and gives me $20 and says "Pastor, this is for you,"Rolls said. Others will drive by in cars they have purchased making an honest living?to thank Rolls.

Both VanCronkhite and Rolls agree that the key issue for street people is relationships. These people need food, shelter and clothes, but they need to restore a relationship with God to be whole again.

 

Reprinted by permission, Charisma, Strang Comm.