by Mark H. Hunter
“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in…” Matthew 25:36
If you want to see what biblical love in action looks like, take a snapshot of the relationship between The Chapel and New Beginning Baptist Church.
Actually, to be more accurate, you’d have to make a documentary film because the uplifting story of a large, prosperous, mostly-white church loving on a small, not-so-prosperous African-American church started nearly four years ago and continues to this day.
It all began in August 2011, when Chapel member Marilyn Wroten read an Advocate newspaper story about the Rev. Donald R. Hunter, Sr., pastor of New Beginning Baptist, walking the streets of his Glen Oaks West neighborhood to establish the Black Family Initiative. The multi-denominational group of small churches is working to restore the traditional and biblical family headed by a responsible father and husband.
The Initiative’s task is huge, Hunter admits. Seventy-two percent of African-American families are headed by single women, compared to 70 percent of white families that have a father present, 66 percent of Hispanic families, and 72 percent of Asian families that have two parents, he said.
“We are just the opposite,” he said. And the negative effects of a missing husband/father only perpetuate a lifestyle of crime by countless angry young black men and guarantees poverty for women and children for generations.
“You see a young black boy walking down the street with no shirt on and his pants are down at his knees, in the middle of the day – that child is screaming as loud as he can, saying, ‘Help me!’ But we see him just as someone in defiance – as a truant, as a danger,” Hunter said in the article that moved Wroten’s spirit.
“I just kept thinking about it and kept praying for him and it stayed on my mind,” Wroten said after a recent prayer meeting at New Beginning church. Each month, several dozen members of both churches alternate at either church for a powerful prayer service.
“I told my pastor I think the Lord wants us to help him. That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Wroten said.
Phone calls were made; Marilyn and her husband Ed Wroten met with Rev. Hunter, and, “the Lord began to connect the dots,” she said.
The Chapel each year allocates its Easter offering, “Project GeneroCity,” to various community ministries, said pastor Kevin McKee. He was preaching through the book of Acts at the time and was in chapter 11, where the church at Antioch is told of a famine and “they determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.”
“They were giving to a less fortunate church and we thought we should do that,” McKee said.
McKee and Hunter soon became friends and a relationship began to develop between the members of both congregations. The Chapel allocated enough “GeneroCity” money to renovate New Beginning’s sanctuary and paid for some remodeling and new roofs for several needy Glen Oaks residents.
Gladys Ross provides childcare for 19 children in the house she’s lived in for 39 years. “I am so blessed to have the neighborhood reach out to me and take care of my roof,” she said.
As relationships of the two church’s members grew, more cooperative events and activities were held. “As you would guess (it is going) slowly but deeply – it just takes a while to build trust,” McKee said.
For example, last summer, dozens of Chapel members teamed up with Glen Oaks residents, New Beginning members, officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s BRAVE program and District Attorney Hillar Moore III, to cut down brush and scrubby trees between houses where crime can hide and mowed vacant lots where children can play.
While the men mowed, chain-sawed and piled the brush, dozens of Chapel, New Beginning, and neighborhood women and girls picked up bag after bag of litter.
“This is wonderful,” said Lucile Dupre as she watched the men mow a vacant lot next to her house.
On another occasion, Chapel members grilled burgers and hot dogs for a Glen Oaks neighborhood, “Play Street” event where Oaklan Drive was blocked off so kids could run free without fear of traffic.
The Chapel also paid for a new steel roof for New Beginning’s sanctuary building and in cooperation with Entergy, installed 91 streetlights in a six-square block section to brighten up what was a crime-plagued neighborhood.
“The night we turned on the 91 safety lights we passed out prevention strategies (informational) brochures to the home owners and neighbors,” Hunter said. “We held a march and seven individuals carried seven signs that displayed the Seven Spirits of God referenced in Revelation 5, and are called by name in Isaiah 11:1-2 (the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the Fear of the Lord). And so, we have the anointing of the Father and His Son in our efforts.”
Efforts Are Paying Off
The lights, the cleanup and “Play Street” efforts have combined to reduce crime, and Hunter, a professional statistician, has the numbers to prove it.
From 2013 to 2014, Hunter said, crime in their neighborhood, BRPD District 4, Zone D, Sub-Zone 1, has declined; homicide has declined 67 percent, robbery is down 24 percent, burglary is down 26 percent, larceny is down 17 percent and motor vehicle theft dropped 14 percent.
“It’s a miracle!” Hunter declared. “These numbers cannot be overlooked!”
The two churches’ combined efforts are “an anointing of God bringing about unity,” Hunter said.
Both Men and Churches are in ‘Uncharted Waters’
“I feel that Kevin and I, and New Beginning and the Chapel are in uncharted waters,” Hunter said. “So we don’t have all the answers – but we do have Christ as a guide that sets the boundaries and even the direction that we should travel.”
In the secular world, Hunter said, “There are challenges that speak to Kevin being white in a predominantly white, affluent congregation and where Donald is of African-American descent in a less significant, so to speak, congregation, but in this – in Christ’s body we are the same – one body, one Lord.”
“Kevin and I have learned to walk in the spirit and not in the physical world so therefore we judge what we have been able to accomplish, not on the world’s standards but on the standards that have been set on Christ,” Hunter said. “To the world that is strange but in Christ it is the command that He gives us to love thy neighbor as thyself – and that is the love in action.”
The Challenge to Pastors and Churches
What if, Hunter was asked, if other churches did this?
“I would surmise that we could eradicate poverty,” he said. “Jesus has given us the resources because everything belongs to him. Jesus says, when you have done it to the least of these my brothers, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was outdoors you took me in, when I was sick you visited me.”
“I hear people who are affluent say, ‘Well, we’re not gonna throw money at it’ – that’s just another way of saying, ‘we just gonna pray.’ Well, faith without works is dead,” Hunter said. “So you got to get off your knees and go do something with what God has given you to address the needs of those who cannot help themselves.”
McKee has a similar challenge, especially to other area pastors.
“Find a church to partner with,” McKee said. “If you’re a church with resources share with a church that doesn’t [have them]. And reciprocate it – New Beginning can’t reciprocate financially but they can – and do – with relationships and opportunities – it’s been awesome.”
“I like Ephesians 2:10, ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do,’” McKee said. “So, we’re just doing the good works that God has prepared us to do.”