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.”
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.
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
2. “Men and
women must be awakened to the duty of self-mastery.” The
Ministry of Healing,
3. For more information
regarding this story, go to: