April 2018, Learning For Life

Churches Take First Step Towards Radical Healing

Churches take first steps towards racial healing

Pastor Gerrit Dawson of First Presbyterian Church and Adraine and Albert White of Abounding Love Ministries.

Two years ago, the city of Baton Rouge simmered with racial tension after Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed by two white police officers. The shooting made national headlines and set off weeks of unrest. Barely a week later, Gavin Eugene Long ambushed and shot six police officers, killing three.

In this climate of fear and violence, pastors throughout the city were comforting their congregations and urging people to stand united rather than divided. But the hurt and anger flowed along racial lines, and finding common ground was easier said than done.

Pastors Gerrit Dawson and Albert White, already longtime friends, took a leap of faith and decided that racial healing had to start somewhere and it might as well start with them.

Dawson is the senior pastor at the mostly white First Presbyterian Church in downtown Baton Rouge. White is pastor at Abounding Love Ministries, a mostly black congregation in the northern part of the city. Their friendship had led them to partner with each other for vacation Bible schools, Habitat for Humanity projects, and Bible studies. But the two congregations had never really mixed with each other on a personal or social level. And that seemed like a logical next step.

Their first step was to identify congregants who were willing to participate. Then “matches” were made among black and white families, who took turns visiting each other’s homes, sharing meals, and getting to know one another. Those first meetings had their awkward moments, but many friendships have been formed and the feedback from both sides has been positive and encouraging.

“In the beginning, some people worried that they would be uncomfortable in someone else’s home or that they wouldn’t know what to talk about,” said Pastor Gerrit, “but in fact, once they engaged with each other, it was easy … because after all, both had Christ in common.”

They called their campaign 50 on 50 because they hoped to enlist 50 families from each church, but because of the smaller size of Abounding Love Ministries, 20 was a reasonable compromise. Looking back, says Pastor Albert, the project almost didn’t happen.

“For the announcement (and very first night) of the program, we invited the First Presbyterian group to our service at Abounding Love,” he said. “But that was the night the city started flooding so we had to cancel. Then our church flooded, and of course, the people at First Presbyterian came and helped us over the next few weeks. So we ended up developing relationships even before the program started.”

While the First Presbyterian volunteers were helping to restore the Abounding Love facility, Pastor Gerrit invited White’s congregation to the First Presbyterian services for the next few weeks. That invitation led to history in the making.

“My wife Adraine gave a sermon there,” Pastor Albert said. “It was the very first time an African-American woman had done so in that church. And I gave communion to the congregation along with their elders. That was another first.”

The home visits have expanded to include field trips, outings, and serious discussions. “We all got together and went to Donaldsonville to visit the River Road African-American Museum,” said Pastor Gerrit. “It was an amazing experience, and afterward, we went out to eat and had a heart-to-heart discussion about slavery and its impact on all of us, black and white, even today.”

“That trip was something that many of our white friends would never have done on their own,” said Pastor Albert. “But it was truly special to share an experience like that together.”

Today, the affection between the two pastors has flowed to their congregants, who have learned how to look beyond the color of each other’s skin and really see the person inside. Now, among the two churches, new friends ask about each other’s families, their health, their needs.

“We are all valuable,” said Pastor Albert. “We all have something to offer … and we are all so much alike. We just need to encourage each other to step outside of our comfort zones whenever we can.”

For more information about Abounding Love Ministries, go to aboundinginhim.org, or call (225) 356-4441. For more information about First Presbyterian Church, go to fpcbr.org, or call (225) 387-0617.

December 2016

Abounding Love Ministries

by Lisa Tramontana
Albert and Adraine White.
Albert and Adraine White.

Fifteen years ago, Albert and Adraine White were at a crossroads in their lives. They were involved in a church going through major changes, and their future was uncertain. They decided to attend a T.D. Jakes conference in Dallas, which had attracted a crowd of about 10,000 people.

“As I sat there, I heard a voice tell me to go up to the altar,” said Apostle Albert White. “I tried to ignore it, but it kept happening. I even whispered to my wife, ‘I know this is God … you’ve got to go up there with me.’ But she said no. I finally told God, ‘Either release me from hearing this voice or release my wife, because I’m not going up there alone.’ And my wife finally agreed.”

In the middle of Bishop Jakes’ introduction, the Whites arose and approached the altar with their heads down. As they clung to the altar, Bishop Jakes stopped mid-sentence and informed the congregation that the Lord had changed his message. The message had real significance for the Whites, who realized at that moment that God was moving them from their past ministry and mentors to start their own church. When they lifted their heads, they saw hundreds of other audience members had followed them to the altar.

Abounding Love Ministries (ALM) opened its doors in 2001 with about 20 members. Since its inception, it has become a landmark of the community and has grown to serve and impact the lives of thousands of men, women and children, both locally and worldwide. Today, members of ALM gather each week to worship and to live out the church’s mission — building up the people of God in every area of their lives, so they may abound in love and every good work toward others. 

Rebuilding has been a focus of the church, following the August flooding, which caused serious damage to the ALM campus. Apostle Albert reminds the congregation that they are the church and their work must continue, as they rebuild with the help of neighbors, friends and their sister church, First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge.

Building the community one person at a time
Abounding Love boasts a long list of community programs and events, including the S.T.A.R.S. program and the Running Reverend Race.

S.T.A.R.S., or Students That Are Reaching Success, allows the church to directly affect the youth of the community by hosting summer camps, after-school tutoring and other special events geared to build and empower children ranging from kindergarten through high school. It also helps parents by offering them resources to support the growth and success of their children.  The program recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Among the alumni are students who went on to study business, education and medicine at schools such as University of Louisiana – Lafayette, Xavier University in New Orleans, and Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. Over the years, S.T.A.R.S. has partnered with local groups such as BREC, the EBRP school system, the YMCA and others to encourage children to follow their dreams, work hard and trust God.

“We help students by providing education, enrichment, recreation and spirituality,” Apostle Albert said. “By helping one child at a time, we can really make a difference.”

Another ALM event that has made a profound impact on the community is The Running Reverend program, which serves as a fundraiser for S.T.A.R.S. What started as a one-person event, meant to strengthen Apostle Albert’s physical and spiritual health, attracted the attention of community leaders who noted his passion, joy and enthusiasm. The Running Reverend race is now an annual downtown event that includes a 5K run and a one-mile walk. “My goal is to see every church in America with a ‘running reverend.’ That’s how important physical fitness is to our overall good health,” he said.

Building the community through relationships

Pastor White in the Running Reverend Race.
Pastor White in the Running Reverend race.

One of the couple’s deepest commitments is to improving race relations within the community. ALM has partnered with First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge and Pastor Gerrit Dawson to bring black and white families together through a special program called 50 on 50.

“It’s really simple,” said Pastor Adraine. “We match 50 white families with 50 African American families, and instead of just attending church together, we want to really do life together. It’s a way to build friendships and get to know each other as people. We may start by meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant, but eventually, we will do things together in each other’s homes and with our families.”

In his October newsletter, Dawson mentioned the five-week period in which the congregation of Abounding Love attended services at First Presbyterian because their own building was damaged. He described it as a time when energy and love were palpable. “For the first time in 190 years, a black woman preached the Word strongly from our pulpit,” he wrote. “For the first time I know of, an African American pastor broke the bread and poured the wine before we partook together in communion. I believe these relationships are a Spirit ‘foothold’ for the churches of Baton Rouge to cling together when racial tensions threaten the shalom of our city.”

“Another way to look at it,” Dawson says, “is to put a face to the race. Instead of looking at someone and immediately seeing their ‘race,’ we should focus on their ‘face,’ the person, the individual.”

Apostle Albert agrees. “If we can break the back of racism in our community, we can do it on a global level, too,” he said.

Building a global community
Abounding Love is involved with worldwide missions through a local ministerial fellowship, M.O.V.E., and a global church planting ministry, Victory Churches International. Through the years, the Whites and members of ALM have traveled extensively throughout Africa and India. Mirroring their work here in the United States, they have volunteered their time and efforts with schools, safe houses, orphans, the homeless and other groups.

In Egypt, Abounding Love joins with First Presbyterian in a summer sports camp program for hundreds of children, allowing them to participate in sporting events and character training. “There are many great things that we can make happen right here in our own city,” said Apostle Albert. “And if we can do those things here, we can do them throughout the world.”

Abounding Love Ministries is located at 7076 Hooper Road in Baton Rouge. For more information, visit the website at aboundinginhim.org, or call (225) 356-4441