by Howard Culbertson
"We are big in the compassion business."
Being "big in the compassion business" is how Zara Stephens, a member of Shepherd Community in downtown Indianapolis, describes her church.
Zara's own story is a thrilling one. Shepherd Community's pastor, John Hay, Jr., describes her past as "a patchwork of failed marriages, drug abuse and mental illness." Today, born-again and Spirit-filled, Zara serves in this church's large clothing pantry. Three days a week, she also gives her time to prepare snacks for an afternoon CIDS club.
"Compassion," says Zara, "is a hug when times are not going well. Compassion is someone who listens and really cares. Compassion is the sweet name of Jesus."
The Saturday I visited Shepherd Community, the historic old church building was alive with the noisy sounds of children. It was also filled with the good smells of turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce. It was the Saturday before the American Thanksgiving celebration. Dinner was being served to more than 300 inner-city residents.
Before I got in line to get my turkey dinner, I had a chance to tour the clothing pantry where Zara volunteers her time. On the Wednesday before I was there, eighty people had received articles of clothing. That same week Zara and fellow volunteers had also distributed nearly 100 sacks of groceries. It had been a "normal" week they said. Shepherd Community is indeed big in the compassion business.
Most of this work with the poor and homeless is done on a volunteer basis. In fact, in a three month period of a recent year, an incredible 1,949 hours of volunteer work were logged at Shepherd Community. Volunteers helping out come not only from Shepherd Community itself but also from other Nazarene churches in the Indianapolis area, most notably Westside and First churches.
One of the most fascinating stories I heard that day concerned Helen. White-haired and wrinkled, she had wandered into Shepherd Community some time ago. She told everyone that never before in her life had she been inside a church building. Yet, later that same day she sat down at an old piano and began playing one gospel song after another.
Where had she learned to play those songs? She had learned to play them, she explained, in the bars down the street. People would come in and get drunk. Then, upon learning she was a piano player, some would ask her to play their favorite hymn or gospel song. If she didn't know it, they would sing it over and over again until she had picked up the tune. Today, born-again and filled with the Spirit, Helen plays those same tunes to the glory of God.
Part of the pre-Thanksgiving Harvest Celebration was special music by the Indianapolis Westside Church choir. As they began to sing "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine," their pastor, J.K. Warrick, leaned over to me. In a whisper, he told me a few of the tragic and wretched situations from which some of his own choir members had been saved. Some were still working through the bitter consequences of earlier degenerate lifestyles.
But the joy on their faces spoke of marvelous changes that had taken place in their lives. As they sang, "To God be the glory, great things He hath done," I was overcome by emotion. What a great day it was.
As that choir began to sing, "It is well with my soul," I noticed that some in that audience were singing along with them. I glanced up above the choir. There, painted on the wall in large Gothic letters, was the phrase: "Holiness Unto the Lord". It had been put there long ago when the sign out front still read "Central Church of the Nazarene"
The neighborhood has gone through all kinds of changes over the years. Most of those changes have been for the worse. Other churches in the same neighborhood died or have moved away. The Nazarene congregation worshiping at this address has gone through some traumatic transitions. Today, with dynamic leadership and clear vision, the Nazarenes using this old building are seeing that it still reverberates with the shouts of the redeemed in Jesus. What began years ago as a church-planting effort to reach "lost sheep" in the central part of Indianapolis is still going strong.
With the help of the Indianapolis district the church has made a down payment on an old warehouse next door. It will be remodeled into a day center for the homeless.
Zara was right. Shepherd Community is big on compassion.
"Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene, an inner city ministry in Indianapolis, is only 25 miles or so from us, and we often have food drives for them.
"We discovered that one of their needs is cereal. So we're having an all church birthday party after church on September 28. Everyone's birthday will be celebrated. There will be 12 areas decorated--one for each month of the year. There will be birthday cakes in each area. Everyone will set at the tables decorated for the month of their birthday. (This mixes people up and helps them get acquainted with new people.) We will also have several freezers of home-made ice cream.
"Of course, you have to have presents at a birthday party. So every one brings one or more boxes of cereal to the party, and the cereal goes to Shepherd Community. We already have large boxes wrapped as presents and several boxes of cereal have been brought in. We hope to have 400 boxes or more of cereal."
-- Rosemary Nolley
|Our heroes in world missions outreach have often energized us with pithy sayings that stirred our hearts. [ read more ]|
Howard Culbertson, Southern Nazarene University, 6729 NW 39th, Bethany, OK 73008 | Phone: 405-491-6693 - Fax: 491-6658
Copyright © 2000, 2001 - Last Updated: July 31, 2008 | URL: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/shep.htm