WHERE WILL SERVANTHOOD TAKE YOU?
A wise person has said, “Every Christian needs two conversions: One from the world to Christ, and another one back to the world with Christ." The twice-converted are to go into a broken, anxious, traumatized, and poverty-stricken world, recognizing that they have been sent as stewards and representatives of Jesus Himself (see John 17:18). As His stewards, we are sent into the world with the same words that Jesus breathed to His disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” (John 20:21, NIV). “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt 28:20, KJV). In His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus makes it clear that those who are born again will be led by the Wind (Spirit), which blows wherever it (He) pleases (vs. 8). Where will He take you? Andrew and Minnie McNeil’s story reveals where He took them and their church:
As His stewards, we are sent into the world with the same words that Jesus breathed to His disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” (John 20:21, NIV).“
In the winter of 1983, Elder W. W. Fordham, Pastor of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, USA, challenged his church by asking why the doors were locked throughout the week except Wednesday nights and Sabbaths. He stated that the church is the best real estate in any community and should be open throughout the week to serve their community. Since, at this point, no one in the church knew what effectively serving their community should look like, they realized that they would have to go to the community and ask them.
After developing a prayer team to guide the church according to God’s will, a church assessment was completed. The intent was to know the interests and spiritual gifts of church members. Secondly, church members went in teams to ask the community about their needs, interests, and assets. Finally, a small committee was formed to assess the services of community providers. Members of this committee asked providers what service they provided and what were the unmet needs. The latter inquiry provided the church’s “niche” list.
The most valuable information came from city officials, local police officers, and the County Office of Housing and Community Development. Church members were surprised to learn that their city needed shelter for homeless men, women, and families. This illustrates the need to ask the community what their needs are—and not to try to guess. The homeless were invisible in their city; and no one knew that this was a problem in the county. After all, it ranked as the 26th most affluent county in North America.
Shelter volunteers observed a phenomenal trend. Men, especially, moved toward self-sufficiency with just their basic needs being met."
To the credit of Coatesville Church leadership, within three weeks a 25-bed capacity shelter opened for men, women, children, and displaced youth in the Sabbath School rooms and in an open area where they usually held prayer meeting. Cots were set up in the open meeting area and families were placed in Sabbath School rooms. The church provided the residents with basic necessities and an address and telephone number. They changed the church’s usual greeting on the answering machine so that people calling in wouldn’t know it was a shelter: “Hello, we’re not available. Please leave a message.” People had no idea that they had just called a church. Residents would receive messages, for example, “Jim, you have a job interview on Tuesday.” Shelter volunteers observed a phenomenal trend. Men, especially, moved toward self-sufficiency with just their basic needs being met. This was an unexpected scenario. Eliminating the concern about where they would sleep or find food, they could then focus on employment, benefits they may have been entitled to, and family. Some said they were afforded time to simply “think,” something that they were not able to do before. They found themselves hopeful for a brighter future.
The leaders of the shelter, Minnie McNeil and her team, began to wonder and dream about what would happen if they provided additional services with intentionality. They were soon to find out.
In September 1988 the Allegheny East Conference of Seventh-day Adventists bought a hospital building in Coatesville that had been dormant for 13 years. The intention was to support the Coatesville church in providing a variety of services that would respond to the needs of persons living in poverty in Coatesville and its surrounding communities. The purchased hospital was renamed the W. C. Atkinson Memorial Community Services and Resource Center—in honor of Dr. Whittier C. Atkinson, an African-American physician who built the first portion of the hospital in 1932.
In January of 1992, having sheltered men, women, families, and occasionally “run-away” or “throw-away” youth in the church for six years, the shelter relocated to the newly renovated former hospital where a 22-bed shelter was developed for homeless men. Nearly 200 men are sheltered here annually. Meanwhile, a shelter for single women and women with children was established in the city by another organization, negating the need to provide shelter for women and children. The renovated hospital provided significant space for the development of additional services which the local church leadership discovered were needed. This would fulfill their goal of not only caring for God’s people as good stewards, but also restoring 'broken' people to a point where they are able to be good stewards themselves, in turn.2 Therefore, in addition to the men’s shelter, two transitional houses adjacent to the Atkinson Center were procured and renovated. Men that are moving toward self-sufficiency, yet need additional support are invited to transfer from the shelter to the transitional homes. The men work, pay rent, and volunteer in the community. Three dilapidated townhouses a block away were rebuilt—becoming beautiful, permanent housing for disabled men who work or are on permanent disability grants. Also, 18 apartments provided in the Atkinson Center are rented by persons with low to moderate income.
Through the years, on-going community assessment has generated a plethora of community programs and services at Atkinson to empower people in their personal lives, including diabetic support groups, grandparent support groups, computer literacy classes, English as a Second Language classes, piano and organ lessons with an annual recital, youth summer camp, community gardening, creative arts and photography, after-school homework assistance, weekly health seminars, and many more.
The influence at Atkinson has provided impetus for community-wide revitalization—not only in the Coatesville environment but in the lives of the people they have served."
The influence at Atkinson has provided impetus for community-wide revitalization—not only in the Coatesville environment but in the lives of the people they have served. For example, one of the first permanent housing residents, who had previously been in the shelter for three years, found Jesus at the Atkinson and was baptized. He became the first facility manager, and was reunited with his wife after 15 years of separation. His wife has been taking Bible studies from the Coatesville church pastor (the vice president of Atkinson). They are preparing for their Heavenly Home.3
The Holy Spirit led the small Coatesville church to servanthood that was beyond their wildest dreams. Where will your Spirit-guided servanthood take you? 1. This statement has often been attributed to John Stott. It is quoted in several publications, such as in Global Youth Ministry: Reaching Adolescents Around the World by Terry Linhart, David Livermore, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, p. 111. However, it is difficult to find this quote in any work of John Stott, even though various authors attribute it to him.
2. “Men and women must be awakened to the duty of self-mastery.” The Ministry of Healing, p. 130.
3. For more information regarding this story, go to: