May - August 2020, Issue 95

The Westside, Since 2002

Kay-Kay with Baby Boy QuavionGrowing up in Chattanooga I knew about poor neighborhoods, like College Hill Courts (aka, The Westside).  Their reputation was of crime, financial poverty and broken relationships.  When a neighborhood was mentioned, it was usually associated with tragedy. While I felt pity for those residents when passing in my car, I certainly did not see them the way that Christ sees them. I didn’t think there was anything I personally could do to help.

This began to change in 2019 when I first heard that Jim Sutherland was leading a team of RMNI volunteers, every Thursday, into the Westside projects.  The goal was to share the Gospel and to demonstrate the love of Christ. I immediately felt the Lord prompting me to learn more.  Was God calling me to enter into a new field of service (Mat 9:37-38)?

It had been a long time since I had participated in evangelism, and I’d never worked in a neighborhood like the Westside.  The first time inside the Westside projects, I could feel anxiety rise, seeing ominous-looking 1940’s-era brick buildings, and the dilapidated grounds.  As RMNI volunteers gathered in the shadow of a large tree to pray, the Lord calmed my heart, replacing fears with excitement for what He was going to do. That day was my first “walk through the Westside,” and I will never be the same.

Ever since, God has worked in our lives, in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Westside, and we trust in those with whom we’ve shared Christ. Jim refers to this Thursday afternoon program as “cruising ministry,” walking in groups of 2 or 3, greeting folks as paths cross. We offer a gift (usually a New Testament or Daily Bread booklet), as a bridge to a conversation and hopefully to a relationship. If interested, we talk about Jesus and what He did for all of us.  We often ask if we might pray together before moving on, and almost always the response is positive.

Relationships between RMNI workers and Westside residents are bearing much fruit. A partner ministry, The Last-To-First Church (LTFC), is now in the Westside, providing a place for worship, teaching and youth ministry.  One single mother named Kay-Kay has become good friends with several RMNI volunteers, even inviting them to her children’s birthday parties and expressing a desire to visit LTFC when they start meeting again.  Three young siblings who live with their grandmother, Lavorjay (9) Loyal (7) and Blessing (5) are memorizing Bible verses and sharing them with us each time we see them.  God has moved prayer warriors to intercede for us and for the Westside, including for restoration of broken relationships.

Is God calling us to be evangelists? Yes!  (Rom 10:14-15; Matt 28:16-20). He will give us the tools we need (Acts 1:8; Eph 6:10-18). Would you be willing to join RMNI as a prayer supporter, or to walk with us one Thursday afternoon in one of the materially poorest neighborhoods of Chattanooga (Mat 9:37-38)? Please contact us: https://www.rmni.org/home/contact-us.html

- Mark Newton

Racial Reconciliation

After the 1965 LA race riots, followed by those in Newark in 1967 and Detroit in 1967, then those following the ML King, Jr. assassination in 1968, I met a Black seminarian in the stairwell at Princeton Seminary. I’d not met him before, but when asked, he took 2-3 hours to explain the rage to me. The impact of that conversation pushed me to work in the African American community to address the pain of the Black community.

Watts Riots 1965Little has changed in race relations in general, even following race riots in Miami (1980); LA (1992); Cincinatti (2001); Fergueson (2014); Baltimore (2015), and Charolotte (2016) www.voanews.com/usa/timeline-us-race-riots-1965

The George Floyd murder is the most egregious example of injustice that I’ve seen. I can feel some of the pain of protestors. The scroll of injustices against Blacks in the USA is lengthy. I saw “Colored” signs over drinking fountains in the South, traveling by Greyhound in 1961. I listened to a friend in College Hill Courts relate dehumanizing treatment, in front of his wife, by a Black police officer. I watch Black and White churches avoid going into housing projects. After 8 hours of evangelism training, not one out of about 20 Blacks who attended, including the pastor, knowing the plan to go into the projects for on-the-job training, would go there. RMNI teams are about 80% White.

As much as I detest the injustice against George Floyd, I detest the injustice of reviling public servants with graffiti, throwing a fire bomb at a police car with 4 policemen in it, looting even minority-owned, and black-owned businesses. These leave a commercial desert, usually within Black communities. As much as I detest the Floyd killing, I see little outrage about Black-on-Black killings on a daily basis in places like Chicago. I’ve met people who were hit by stray bullets, and contributed to burial costs of others.

Ultimately, the problem is not skin, but sin, as the late Black evangelist Sam Dalton put it. I’m an example. I grew up racist, joking about Blacks. When Christ cornered me in 1962, He changed my heart, so that 10 years later, my bride and I moved to Brewton, AL, into a trailer in the Black, largely unpaved section of town. Since then our ministry has been in the Black community. Since 1990, I’ve been in Chattanooga housing projects, and can perhaps say that I understand a lot of the pain Blacks feel.

I’ve read enough of Thomas Sowell (Race and Culture, Economic Facts and Fallacies) to know that most minorities globally have faced, and continue to face, some of the same injustices that Blacks face in the USA. Overseas Chinese were legally discriminated against by the US, Canada and Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Along with smaller genocides, since 1965, hundreds of thousands were murdered in both Indonesia and Cambodia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overseas_Chinese). Even more injustices and probably murders have been perpetrated upon the Jews, through today https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Jews). This does not minimize injustice experienced by any ethnic group.

If sin is the major issue, then rage and marching may incite fear, but together with concomitant injustice, may also harden hearts. I’ve taught on ethnic reconciliation, but am not skilled enough to reconcile people of different races who aren’t Christians. Teaching can be helpful, but an effective road is for Christians of various ethnicities to work together for God’s Kingdom. When engaged in spiritual warfare, we don’t need to think about reconciliation, because we’re acting as one, with the same Holy Spirit animating each of us.  This presupposes new birth in Christ, and a new mind informed by the Bible and Spirit. Foundational to this is salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. When we admit to the fatal sin in our hearts, including racism, accept Christ’s death on the cross to take away that sin, giving new birth, and a new heart, then we can love others who sin.

When God puts His love into our hearts, it flows toward others, regardless of color. If sin is the major issue, and new birth in Christ is the best answer, then we need evangelists to share that message in Black, White, Hispanic—among all ethnic groups. New birth does not automatically deliver from racism, but represents the beachhead of the Spirit. There is no single answer to racism, but an awakening among those not knowing Christ, and revival among those who do, comes closest.

- Jim Sutherland

Ministry Update—And What Gifts Have Accomplished:

 
These past few months have been filled with unprecedented events in our lifetime.  With the global “lock-down” caused by the Covid-19 virus, we have all had our plans changed in ways we never anticipated.  In spite of these dramatic events, we have seen God working in amazing ways, in our lives and the lives of those we serve.  What a blessing to know that it is God who is in complete control and we have nothing to fear while we are following Him (Matt 10:26-31)!
  1. Canon Copy MachineSince early March, approximately $1,200 in food gift cards, rent assistance and other gifts have been shared at the Westside. For the past two months RMNI teams have worked there, despite little social distancing (and few masks) there.
  2. Mark is helping tornado victims in a predominately Latino trailer park in Chattanooga, and continues developing relationships among local Latino leaders.
  3. Lookout Mtn. Presbyterian Ch. is sending $7554 in emergency food relief to churches in Juba, S. Sudan (RMNI assisted with proposal development). This will help 400 families of 5 persons for about 2 weeks, with flour, beans and oil. Friends there may eat one meal a day.
  4. The Hugh and Charlotte Maclellan Trust provided $5,000 for 300 wash stations for Juba residents. These are 5-gallon buckets, with a spigot, and 2 liters of dish soap, to help prevent the spread of covid-19. There are perhaps 2,000 confirmed cases there as of this writing. RMNI was invited to apply for this grant money.
  5. Mitch, Laura, Abigail & Dixon GroothuisRMNI continues support of Grace Theological College in Juba ($7788 so far in 2020), including the above heavy-duty copier for the school. They plan to resume classes in September.
  6. Mitch Groothuis is our new bookkeeper! He has a great spirit and significant experience. He’s guiding our move to QuickBooks Online and overseeing all financials. Meanwhile, Mark Newton has new hardware and software, and is setting up his home office.
  7. Walt Robertson, our webmaster, created RMNI.org over 20 years ago, and continues to both develop and protect it, now gratis. Thank you Walt!
  8. Jim continues updating the African American missionary census by contacting scores of mission organizations, and networking with mobilizers. Walt & Becci RobertsonThis work has led to Zoom meetings with the Assemblies of God AFAM Missions Mobilizing team, and with a new effort to network mobilizers, headed by Jacinta Russell. Organizations include the Southern Baptist Convention and the National African American Missions Conference.
Zoom meetings

Prayer Power

  • We’re thankful for RMNI team members who have been able to minister at the Westside. By God’s grace, they haven’t contracted Covid-19 (to our knowledge).
  • We’re grateful for recent grants for assistance to Juba residents.
  • We’re thankful for relationships that allow us to mourn with those who mourn, and to reaffirm our love, friendship and support in the current racial crisis.
  • Please pray that our S. Sudan team will be able to safely minister in S. Sudan in Oct-Nov time-frame — but if not, that our tickets can still be used in 2021. Please pray for wisdom in recruitment and planning, with so many unknowns, and that all who the Lord wants on the trip will be on the airplanes—both directions!
  • Due to security and HR restrictions, it’s difficult to obtain (or for us to share) information on AFAM missionaries. Please pray for favor with organizations and with those who have this knowledge, and for the ability to successfully conclude this research.
  • Pray for effective spiritual and material ministry at the Westside, and for continued protection of workers.
  • Pray for wisdom and God’s hand upon Mark, as leadership transition continues. Jim plans on a sabbatical, hopefully after the S. Sudan trip.
  • Pray for wisdom for Jeremy and Dawn as they lead Last to First Church at the Westside. Currently they are meeting at Dawn’s home, due to the virus. Dawn is training her disciples to work at the Westside.
  • Pray for chaplains working at the Juba UN refugee camp. One recently died (Simon), leaving 8 children.

The Reconciliation Report is a publication of

Reconciliation Ministries Network, Inc.
PO Box 2537 Chattanooga, TN 37409-0537
https://www.RMNi.org

Phone: 423-822-1091

Mark Newton, Director
Mark@RMNi.org