Transforming a City from the Inside Out
By Christina Tazelaar
When Emmanuel Reformed Church recruited people to start a new church in nearby Compton, California, it asked for real commitment--each family was asked to move into Compton, a city plagued by poverty and notorious for gang activity.
"We're hoping to do incarnational ministry," says Pat Dirkse, pastor of the new City Church of Compton. "We wanted people to move in because we believe the city gets transformed from the inside out.
"We're going to experience the same things our neighbors experience, so we can turn and do something about the very thing [where] we see a need."
Three families bought houses in Compton, and two others rented apartments. Two families are waiting for their houses to sell before they can move.
The group is roughly a third Caucasian, a third Hispanic, and a third African American. "Compton is 65 percent Hispanic, 35 percent African American," Dirkse says. "Being white in Compton, people thought we were the police when we first showed up. Specifically with our call to move into the city, there's been a lot of questions--why are you here?
"And that's your opportunity to talk about the hope of the gospel. We believe God loves the city, and we love the city, and we're trying to serve it. This is why we're here."
To get to know the neighbors, the group has done prayer walks and set up prayer booths, picked up trash, hosted community events for Easter and Christmas, and hosted "Matthew parties."
"In the book of Matthew, Jesus calls Matthew to follow him and the very next thing you see him doing is inviting tax collectors and sinners to dinner at his house," Dirkse says. "Basically we throw a barbeque and play games and be in the front yard where people can join us. The requirement is you need to be a sinner to come, and you can invite one.
"Through Matthew parties and the Easter egg hunt, there are neighbors saying, 'I've lived here six years and I met more neighbors today than in the last six years.'
"We've seen gang activity decrease on our street. Police activity has gone down in our neighborhood. There's some stories of our neighbors who have joined us, and a few who have become Christians in the process. And there are a few who don't step in to join us at this point, but they speak very highly of the church and the changes coming to the neighborhood."
Several families from the group live within one block, a block that's the focus of the church's first "missional community." Dirkse explains these are groups of 20 to 50 people who are united around a specific mission--in this case, transforming Peck Street--as they follow Jesus. "We're large enough to have some of the resources to care for people, yet we're small enough to know each other, know people's names and their stories as well." A second missional community was scheduled to launch in March, and Sunday celebration worship services were slated to begin around Easter.
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