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Ferguson’s healing envisioned block by block

FERGUSON, Mo. (BP) — Changing the streets of unrest in Ferguson to streets of love and ministry is the aim of an “Adopt a Block” initiative now underway amid the Missouri city’s racial tensions.

Adopt a Block is “a good, simple plan,” said Stoney Shaw, pastor of First Baptist Church, one of the participating local congregations.

“We want to join with other churches and minister. Walking the streets and praying is a simple yet powerful plan,” Shaw told The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

The Adopt a Block initiative is being organized as racial tumult continues in the city of 21,000 just northwest of St. Louis, triggered last August when a Ferguson police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old in a heated confrontation. Tensions mounted with the March 4 release of a Justice Department inquiry that exonerated police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown but found widespread discrimination by police against the city’s black residents. The police chief, city manager and a municipal judge soon resigned. Two police officers were wounded in gunfire on March 12. On March 16, the accused shooter’s attorney claimed that his client was beaten by police officers and coerced into confessing.

The new Adopt a Block initiative is being led by Jose Aguayo, a chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team and pastor of Dorea Ministries in Ferguson.

Teams of several church members will adopt a block in Ferguson for ongoing outreach. “This is a point of connection with the community and a way to show love,” Aguayo said. “We want to establish a relationship with the people in the neighborhood.”

In the beginning, Aguayo said, the visitation will involve an introduction — “a hello with prayer.” As relationships develop, Aguayo noted that “discipleship will follow. Eventually sports teams, community outings and study assistance for children and adults will take place.”

Adopt a Block is a ministry model begun about 20 years ago at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, part of a network of ministries nationally, Aguayo said.

First Baptist hosted one of the initial training sessions, providing training and resources developed by the Billy Graham ministry. First Baptist also hosted a Nov. 13 prayer summit and has been part of local efforts to provide child care and revitalize downtown businesses that were looted in rioting after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson in late November.

“Prayerwalking and talking with people is so important,” Shaw said. “They need to see our faces in the community.”

Shaw noted in written comments to Baptist Press March 20, “We have been an outreaching church for a long time, but this is a steady outreach to the same block or area of our community either weekly or every other week. We hope to get to know people on our block of ministry — to pray for each person and anything that is important to them and to develop a relationship with each one as we go back. After a few times we will actually know who we are relating to….

“As it develops, anyone in the church can have such a ministry anytime they want to,” Shaw noted. “I believe most Christians want to have a ministry and once they understand this approach I believe most people will desire this type of ministry instead of a ‘hit-and-run’ approach, cold turkey calls or confrontations.

“This way, you can have a relationship with a person you know by name before you ever begin talking with them about the Gospel. People will ‘see’ the Gospel (of love and care) before they ever hear it. We know it is easier to hear the Gospel from someone you know than a complete stranger. Why? Because we know this person (the adopt-a-block person) has paid the price and earned the right to share the most important news a person has ever heard.”

The Adopt a Block plan will entail a central location for monitoring the progress of the churches, setting a place for weekly reports, follow-ups, networking and resourcing.

Shaw said churches of every size can embark on this type of ministry. “But it must be regular. Count the cost before you start,” he said. “If it isn’t sustained, it will be just like the other things we have done and then dropped…. Just think, what if every church would adopt such a ministry. Ultimately many will come into the Kingdom and our churches will become a place that the world will say, ‘Those folks really do care.'”

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