WINTHROP, Mass. (BP)–For nine years in Massachusetts, the town of Winthrop has been changing little by little as God has worked through the lives of Dick and Doreen May.
The Mays, natives to the area, planted the Evangelical Baptist Teaching and Worship Center in the heart of a town where most churches no longer preach about Jesus.
“OK, let’s start from the beginning. Genesis,” May says, once the Boston-area congregation has filtered in for the Thursday evening Bible study, some coming straight from work. Dick talks about creation, then the fall of man -— subjects lost on deaf ears in most parts of the region.
If doctors had been right a few years ago, this night of studying God’s Word would never have come about.
“I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” May says. “I was given a few months to live.”
His dire prognosis only amplified the urgency of his task. But his overwhelming vision — a true revival in New England — is still a soul-by-soul process.
“This is the ‘show-me, don’t-tell-me region,'” May says. “And sometimes they don’t want you to show them or tell them. They’re ‘all set.’ It’s like drilling down for oil. But here, instead of soft soil you have granite.”
Though Boston and New England are historically the points of origin for much of the religious leaning of the United States, the area has in recent history leaned largely in the other direction. As a result, many of the picturesque church buildings there have iced over into museums of their former selves.
Before moving into “downtown” Winthrop, members of the small church plant began by meeting in May’s modified garage nine years ago.
“I built it from the ground up,” May, a retired construction contractor, says of a two-story building adjacent to his house. Up the winding iron staircase he salvaged from a junkyard are his study and workout room. Below is the garage-turned-chapel-turned-garage where he stores his Honda Shadow — the motorcycle he rides into town for mid-week evangelism.
Grassroots ministries like Dick and Doreen May’s — where small groups gather and the Bible is taught faithfully — are few and far between. But they are the hope of a region where church has become too much of an institution and not enough of a community. They’ve also become the hope for people like Pauline Delassandra.
Delassandra used to be a waitress at a diner frequented by the Mays. Over the course of months, Dick and Pauline became friends. They talked about her life, eventually about God and the prospect of Pauline attending the church Mays was leading.
But Pauline didn’t give it all much serious thought until she was diagnosed with cancer and started on chemotherapy. The Mays began praying for her physical healing as well as for her salvation. One day in the diner, Pauline gave her life to Christ.
“It’s like I was born again,” says Pauline, echoing the words of Christ Himself. She now is cancer-free.
Emerging from a biker’s life as a member of the Devil’s Disciples, Pauline gave up a past of drugs and stealing when she turned to Christ. “I could crack safes and pick locks by the time I was 17,” she says. “I have to be honest. I’ve broken just about every one of the Ten Commandments.”
Now on a chilly sidewalk in downtown Boston, Pauline braces a large sign with the Ten Commandments. The wind threatens to send it sailing. She, May and other members of his church have come out for their regular winter-months outreach to the inner-city homeless. This is Pauline’s first such venture. She made the peanut butter sandwiches. “I’m so excited.”
May has been discipling Pauline and other members of his church. He’s teaching them how to carry the Gospel to friends, family and out into the streets of Boston. It’s a network of evangelism that extends beyond any one church planter. As Pauline unloads a cooler, someone recognizes her from the days when she herself lived homeless on the streets of Boston.
“Isn’t this amazing!” Pauline laughs. “I don’t remember him but he remembers me!”
Over the course of a few hours, dozens of homeless men and women — including William from Boston who’d like to be a chef and Jon from California who can’t find his wife — will receive the socks and clothes for the harsh streets.
And as members of the church share faith in Christ, one hopes they’ll receive much more than physical — and fleeting — comfort. Seeds are planted and prayers for their salvation are sent to heaven.
“I’m praying for it,” May says. “I’m praying for revival.”
Adam Miller is associate editor of the North American Mission Board’s On Mission magazine. Visit www.NAMB.net and click on Monthly Missionary Focus to view a video on Dick May and Pauline Delassandra.