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High rise doors open as Baptists show interest, sensitivity, concern

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Hot tea and hot dogs, a Baptist pastor and a Jewish rabbi — though seemingly different, all have had a part in opening doors to homes in Florida’s Palm Beach County’s multihousing communities.
An estimated 80 percent of the county’s 1.2 million people, all ages and all income brackets, live in some kind of multihousing — high rises, apartment complexes, mobile home parks or retirement centers. And it’s not always easy to get through their doors, notes Gerry Beauvais, multihousing consultant for Palm Lake Baptist Association.
Especially in the high rises, “they want their privacy,” she said.
Add to that another statistic — a growing Jewish population of 260,000 in Palm Beach County — and you have one of Beauvais’ greatest challenges: how to get a ministry started in high-rise communities with a high proportion of Jewish residents.
Beauvais, who also works as a statewide multihousing consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, hopes that a pilot project with Island Reach — a 288-apartment complex in Boynton Beach with about 45 percent of residents Jewish — will become a model for ministry in similar settings.
Shortly after she arrived on the associational field in February, Beauvais approached the management of Island Reach about the possibility of Baptists beginning a ministry there.
“We were told we could not go in there unless we had a rabbi to go with us,” she recalled.
Rather than let that discourage her, “I called every rabbi in the phone book.” Most weren’t interested.
But she finally found Andrew Beck, a conservative rabbi from Temple Beth Shalom, who acknowledged many Jewish people don’t attend synagogue and was interested in outreach to them.
At the outset, Beauvais asked Beck if he would object to the Baptists sharing with Jewish residents about “Yeshua” — Jesus — if they showed an interest. He would not object, he said, if he would likewise be free to share about Judaism with interested Gentiles.
Jim Koscheski, pastor of Barwick Road Baptist Church in Delray Beach, agreed to work alongside Beck.
In August, the ministry was launched with a block party at the Island Reach swimming pool, featuring a Messianic musical group, L’Chayim, along with a professional clown and a meal of hot dogs and potato chips.
Despite bad weather, 39 people attended and responded positively, Beauvais said.
Organizers are not sure where the ministry will go from there, but children’s activities and parents’ night out have been identified as possibilities.
More recently, an afternoon tea was held at Rapallo South, an upscale high rise in West Palm Beach, where half the residents are Jewish. A chaplaincy program is being proposed there, with Rabbi Beck available to Jewish residents and Ray Henry, pastor of Belvedere Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, relating to those who desire a Christian chaplain.
“This is a major breakthrough,” Beauvais said, and the best response from adults to any tea or block party the multihousing ministry has sponsored. She noted three members of the homeowners’ board attended the tea, and that the board was expected to discuss the proposed chaplaincy program — with a favorable response anticipated — at their next meeting.
Lura Jean Hoss, a resident of Rapollo and member of First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, has made her home available for Bible study.
There have been other successes and promising starts. Among them, a ministry was begun at Congress Park, a low-income housing community in Lake Worth. Residents of the community are 85 percent African American, with most of the rest Haitian or Hispanic. A block party held there during the summer was attended by nearly 300 people.
Several people have made professions of faith as a result of Bible studies held there.
Kevin Wendle, a volunteer from First Baptist Church, Royal Palm, holds weekly Bible study for youth in the complex clubhouse, but a leader is needed to continue work begun there with adults.
“You talk about needs — alcohol, drug abuse, AIDS … . There’s a lot of hurting people out there, and they’re not coming to our churches,” Beauvais said. “We can’t sit behind our church doors anymore.”
She emphasized one of the goals of multihousing ministry is to start churches, to bring people together and “make them a family and not just neighbors.” It is also possible that some people reached through multihousing ministry will find places in existing churches.
“All I know is, God says go out there and meet the people where they are, and let God worry about the increase of the church,” Beauvais said.

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  • Shari Schubert