Cover Story, January 2017

One City, One Church, One Hope

by Lisa Tramontana

te-publicity-1115bDr. Tony Evans has a vision for Baton Rouge — to transform the community from a Christian perspective to bring about healing and hope. He will share that vision on January 26 when he leads a citywide gathering, along with local pastors and church leaders who are also committed to creating unity in the capital city.

The event, “One City, One Church, One Hope,” is spearheaded by Pastor Rene Brown of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church and Pastor Kevin McKee of The Chapel on the Campus. The two worked hard to organize Dr. Evans’ visit. As the pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Evans is a nationally recognized author, teacher and speaker known for a philosophy that mixes biblical spirituality with social responsibility.

One City
Creating unity is a lofty goal. Baton Rouge has experienced a lot of hurt in the past few months, and healing won’t come quickly or easily. For the past four months, residents have suffered indescribable loss and devastation due to the “Thousand Year Flood” which ravaged southeast Louisiana in August. The holidays were bittersweet for many local families who still haven’t been able to return to their homes.

And just weeks before the flood, an undeniable racial divide was polarizing area residents. In July, the city gained national attention after Baton Rouge Police’s fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man. The incident sparked local protests and widespread criticism, especially after a graphic phone video was shared on social media. Just days later, Gavin Long of Missouri ambushed and killed three law officers and wounded three more in another Baton Rouge shooting. Long, who was African-American, was killed by police shortly afterward.

No place is exempt from violence, but Baton Rouge seemed to suffer more than its share in 2016. It has been a heartbreaking year in many respects. Local pastors have called for peace and many churches have worked hard to reach across the chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding in the hopes of creating some kind of togetherness.

“The racial divide is one of the key reasons for social collapse,” Dr. Evans said. “When we become illegitimately divided along race, class, cultural and denominational lines, we have uninvited God into the scenario. And God will not work in the context of illegitimate disunity.”

One Church
Dr. Evans doesn’t just preach about the challenge of creating unity. He has solid ideas for making it happen, and has seen positive results in his own church in Dallas. He promotes the idea of an “urban alternative” which states that churches, not government, are best positioned to bring about social change.

“We go across the country to communities like Baton Rouge where there are churches that want to make a difference,” he said. “They (churches) are the epicenter of transformation. We offer a simple plan. First of all, we bring churches together around a common vision — to bring healing and help to their communities. We tell churches, ‘you must identify a common thread and let the community see how your presence is for the community’s benefit.’ The thread we promote most is the adoption of public schools.”

That’s because schools are often at the heart of America’s communities. It’s where children are educated, supported, protected and encouraged. It’s often the most integral part of a family’s social network, a place where not just students, but parents and teachers establish friendships and build relationships.

“We start with the adoption of public schools because this deals with children, with education, with families,” Dr. Evans said. “We don’t have to create anything new. If every school gets adopted by a church or group of churches, then you’re touching the whole community and you’re becoming the social services provider for the whole community.”

Eventually, Dr. Evans said, school/church partnerships (pastors and principals) are able to speak with one voice on major issues.

The process, he added, includes mentoring, tutoring and family support. The mentoring model he supports is based on one male volunteer to four boys, one female volunteer to four girls. “We walk them through character development,” he said. “So many kids don’t have strong parental influences, so the church becomes their surrogate family.”

Tutoring consists of academic help, of course, and family support comes from offering social services — for example, helping students by providing food, clothing, shelter, job placement (advice), GED counseling, etc. “Social services are critical,” Dr. Evans said, “especially due to the breakdown of the family.”

One Hope
Every community has people with hearts that hope for and work toward change. Imagine how hope can grow and triumph when a community is unified toward a common goal. This is what Dr. Evans hopes to find on January 26 when he steps before his Baton Rouge audience.

He encourages Baton Rouge residents to work toward building peace by focusing on community outreach — volunteering, mentoring, getting involved in church ministries. It’s something that sustains his own faith, he said, and strengthens his relationship with God.

“By being engaged directly and practically with my local church … that’s what keeps me grounded,” he said. “It’s not theory, but practice. I’m energized by gatherings like this (in Baton Rouge). They fire me up.”

“I can just see the hope God brings out in them.”

Dr. Evans’ visit is just the beginning of an important movement. Coming together is just the first step. Staying together is the ultimate goal, and it will require constant focus, prayer and communication. For more information on how you can become involved, visit the Believers for Baton Rouge website.

About Dr. Evans:

Dr. Tony Evans is a nationally known pastor, author, teacher and speaker. He is the first African American to graduate with a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

He promotes a Kingdom agenda philosophy that teaches God’s comprehensive rule over every sphere of life as demonstrated through the individual, family, church and society.

He believes in the power of church and school partnerships to effect spiritual and social change, and he trains churches, schools and volunteers in this philosophy.

Dr. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. The church has grown from 10 congregants in 1976 to more than 10,000 members today with more than 100 ministries.

His daily radio broadcast, The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, can be heard on nearly 1,000 radio stations in the US, and more than 130 countries. He has also authored more than 10 books, booklets and Bible studies.

He and his wife Lois have been married for more than 40 years. They have four children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.