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In midst of fire-devastated Bronx, N.Y. church rose to provide hope

BRONX, N.Y. (BP)–“God is good. It is good to be good. It is good to do good.”

This is the trademark statement of master urban minister Sam Simpson, who with his wife Lola was called in 1964 to work among a growing Caribbean population that was migrating to a controlled-rent area north of Manhattan.

Simpson’s church start, Bronx Baptist, is stop No. 15 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the country to kick off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

Little did Simpson know that within a year of his arrival, the community would begin deteriorating until in the early 1970s it was described in local newspapers as looking like Berlin after World War II. Nearly 70,000 fires were started — mostly because of housing issues — in the south Bronx during Simpson’s first seven years there.

He started Bronx Baptist Church in the midst of the conflagration, and it blossomed like a brilliant blue morning glory in the ash-filled south part of the borough.

Simpson started five churches in the Bronx, all of which continue to thrive, and encouraged 11 others to join with Southern Baptists in ministry to people who live in the Bronx.

Today he continues as pastor of Bronx Baptist Church, where about 250 attend Sunday morning worship, and Wake Eden Community Baptist church, where about 200 attend. The churches have started day care centers, after-school centers, nursing home ministries, jail ministries, feeding ministries and more. At one time Bronx Baptist developed a choir of homeless people. Wake Eden has a K-8 school for about 200 youngsters.

The secret to pastoring two congregations at the same time is delegation of responsibility, Simpson says.

“The church is not mine; it’s all of us,” the pastor said. “I’m the motivator, the helper. The dynamics of church growth requires delegation.

“In our churches we have lawyers, doctors, people from different strata of life,” Simpson continued. “You recognize their gifts and encourage them. They may not carry [an idea] out the way you would carry it out but you need to accept it and let them have ownership of it.”

Everything he does starts with people, Simpson said. In time-honored SBC style, he helps people establish a relationship with Jesus Christ, disciples them, helps them discover ways they can serve God, gives them opportunities and leaves the results to God.

From his earliest years in the Bronx, Simpson connected with local government officials and other church and community leaders. Today he’s considered one of the most influential pastors in the state, according to the many accolades he has received. The media commonly refers to him as the “bishop of the Bronx.”

Simpson’s strategy, as described by those who have worked with him the last four decades, is to involve others in ministry, pro-actively (when possible, reactively when necessary) respond immediately to community issues, and look for the good in every situation and every person.

At least six men under Simpson’s tutelage have gone into fulltime Christian service, while countless other men and women have become local church leaders wherever life has taken them.

“I am learning from Dr. Simpson commitment and faithfulness to the call of God on your life no matter what the situation you’re facing,” said Frank Williams, who was named assistant pastor at Bronx Baptist earlier this year. “Another thing I’m learning from him is to not respond to people according to their weaknesses. I also learned that you need to have collaborative efforts and relationships with community organizations such as the police force and others, because when different entities work in harmony, that only helps enhance the overall effect of the ministry.”

At Bronx Baptist, ministries ebb and flow as the people called to them come and go, such as the choir of homeless people that lasted for a couple of years. At the present time, in addition to its day care and after school care programs, the church provides a hot meal once a week for about 125 people.

A Thursday night “midnight” prayer meeting — so named because it lasts from 8 p.m. to midnight — has been going on since 1973.

Bronx Baptist also has a strong youth program that becomes even stronger in the summer months with the arrival of summer missions teams who lead day camps at various parks. Youth also meet Friday nights at the church.

“I love people. I love the work I’m doing,” Simpson said. “I don’t know why anything a person can think of cannot work. If God puts it on your heart, He will make it happen.”