Church Experience #13 – April 3, 2011
East Lake Salvation Army
A Chasm of Disparity
For this week’s church visit I decided I needed to get right into the trenches with what has become probably the most consistent topic/thought/issue of my ChurchSurfer journey so far this year. The more I get into the Word, the more churches I visit, the more people I meet, the more time I spend in prayer…the more I get smacked in the face with the issue of money. The haves and the have-nots, the good part of town and the bad part of town, the state-of-the-art megachurch complexes and the single-room bare bones church buildings. The gaping chasm of financial disparity that exists in today’s society is unavoidable to some, yet all but ignored by others. I’ve lived in the East Lake neighborhood of Chattanooga before, among other low-income areas, so I’ve always been aware of the substandard conditions that many people live in, but I’ve never regularly attended church in those areas, and I’ve never attended a Salvation Army church service before. So in order to get a better understanding I decided to go to a worship service at East Lake Salvation Army, on the corner of 28th St and 4th Ave, just across from the East Lake housing projects.
Jesus Loves The Little Children
My wife Laura and I entered the sanctuary of East Lake Salvation Army not really knowing what to expect. There were about twenty adults and twenty-five children seated in the pews of the clean and simple sanctuary. The room was nicely kept and had traditional church pews, a basic wooden podium, a piano, and not much more. There was no excess in this building…no fancy decorations, no electric instruments or high dollar sound system, but what they had was adequate for what they do, which seemed fitting. Having a fancy church in this neighborhood would accomplish nothing but becoming a distraction and reminder to most of these people about what they go without on a daily basis. Instead, the message that is sent by covering the basic needs and nothing more allows the Salvation Army to be an honorable example of humility. As I surveyed the room and studied the people, an elderly lady behind us came over to greet us. She asked us our names, and spoke to us for a few minutes, thanking us for attending their service and making sure we felt welcome. While we talked, the continuous ruckus from the twenty-five kids all seated together in the front two rows followed by the constant correction from the lady leading the service, kept stealing my attention. In addition, another elderly lady from a few rows back kept giving an amusing “amen” or “God love ’em” vocal encouragement every time the church leaders corrected the children. There were so many kids in the service, I assumed that one of the ladies in the congregation probably went around the housing projects gathering up the children from households where the adults don’t attend church. The worship leader called the congregation to stand and sing the morning’s hymns, and as we sang through “Love Lifted Me” and “I Love to Tell the Story”, the out-of-tune piano added a somewhat clumsy accompaniment to the sparse singing voices. I joyfully sang along, knowing that although my vocal ability is not one of my strong points, the music we were making was a welcome blessing to our Lord, who I’m sure was listening with a smile.
Equality in Christ
After the singing came to an end, the congregation was asked to share testimonies. This was obviously the favorite part of the service for some of the kids up front, as they offered up quips such as “I love the Lord” and “thanks God for Spider-Man and Mommy”. Joyce, the “amen” lady from a few rows back, stood and offered thanks for the fact that in God’s eyes, no matter what our race or circumstance, everybody is equally loved. After testimonies, the children were dismissed to attend children’s church and the main speaker came up to deliver the sermon for the day. The regular church pastor was away at a camp, so the guest speaker for the week (whose name I forgot to write down) was the lady who serves as secretary for the Chattanooga Salvation Army. Her uplifting message was aimed directly at the people of the East Lake community…that God sees more than what the world does. She spoke with a nurturing voice and paused with a big smile each time she mentioned the name of Jesus or God’s grace, like just speaking the words brought joy to her heart. She taught about the life of David and various symbolic aspects of it…about how he was the eighth son of Jesse and the number eight signifies new beginnings…about how David selected five smooth stones when he faced Goliath and the number five is symbolic of God’s grace. She talked about the three main sources of sin in our lives, which are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – which she explained was the sense of entitlement (or deserving) among people. As she spoke, the Lord gave me discernment that she has a powerful spirit and a deep wisdom of His love and grace. I imagine she has developed this from her involvement in the Salvation Army. God has blessed her because of her commitment to love and serve the less fortunate, overlooked, and often forgotten members of society.
Pain and Heart Ache
These are the exact people who Jesus was reaching out to in His ministry and the same message that He was sharing…the message that in Him there is no judgement according to the eyes of the world. God sees more than the world does, right down to the core of your soul, and what characteristics actually reside there…the true essence and personality of your being. It is according to this that you will be judged, according to the condition of your heart, and as I desire to become more like Christ through God’s sanctifying grace, it hurts deep within me to ponder on the injustices created by this world through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It hurts to see how these sins become like parasites to society, even making their way into the church. I pray right now and ask that you pray the same prayer, that our eyes and hearts be opened to those who are in need around us. These discarded people and young children grow up and live in conditions that are worse than you can imagine. They live in homes and neighborhoods that are filled with drug abuse, prostitution, broken families, physical violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition, inadequate education, hate, greed, anger, despair, depression, and many, many more evils. They starve for affection, positive attention, a sense of self-worth, and Godly role models to be actively involved in their life. As I sat in the East Lake Salvation Army, my heart ached thinking of all the resources that are available to the people in the churches in the rich communities, but remain separated from these people who need them the most. These children need more than financial support. They need our love, our time, and our attention. They need us to be there sitting beside them in church. They need us to be teaching them in Sunday school. They need us to provide healthy activities, recreation, and educational programs. The Salvation Army and other churches and organizations that are in these communities need your financial support, but the people and children of these communities need you.
Father God, please call your people, the church, to action on this issue. Please begin a work in the Christians in Chattanooga through your Holy Spirit to overcome the sins created by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Please help us to no longer ignore those in our community who need You the most. Please help those who are wealthy to no longer be distracted by riches and worldly possessions while others around us go without food, shelter, and clothing. Please help those who are well educated share their knowledge with those who have no access to a good education. Please help us to share Your love with those who starve for affection. Lord, I ask these things in the name of your Son Jesus. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
I invite and challenge everyone reading this to get together with the people of your church and dedicate some of your time and resources to the less fortunate in our community. If you need direction, please contact theSalvation Army, and I’m sure they will welcome your help and support.
Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook. I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!