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Missionary shares of God’s provision over 49 years of inner-city ministry

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–When Louise Adamson arrived at her new missionary assignment in East St. Louis, she was quickly struck by the contrasts. From her room in the newly constructed Baptist Goodwill Center, she could see two taverns across the street — and the upstairs rooms where prostitutes lived.
“I looked around and I thought, “‘Oh, Lord, this beautiful building looks like a rose in the midst of a rubbish heap. … How do we begin?'” Adamson recounted. “And Jesus said to my heart clearly, ‘My child, it’s not you. You are not the good news. I am. I will be with you. The burden is not yours, it’s mine. And if I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.'”
That was in November 1950, the beginning of the ministry career of the North American Mission Board’s longest-term missionary. For 49 years Adamson has ministered to thousands mired in the poverty of the inner city, first in East St. Louis and since 1957 in central Atlanta.
Adamson — whose story of persistence and selfless commitment to Christ has been featured nationally in Christianity Today magazine and other contexts — gave an overview of how God has worked through her ministry during a chapel service at the North American Mission Board Nov. 16. She also was honored with the agency’s Clovis Brantley Award for Outstanding Missionary Service, given to two church and community missionaries each year. This year’s other recipient has not yet been announced.
While attending evening college classes in Atlanta during the 1940s and working as an office manager at a pharmaceutical laboratory by day, Adamson had her first exposure to the poverty of the inner city and its residents’ desperate need for the gospel. She left her well-paying job to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where she received her master’s degree in social work.
She originally believed God wanted her overseas, but God had other plans. In East St. Louis, she quickly heeded a seminary professor’s advice to “begin with the children.” She started a kindergarten at the center that was soon reaching 100 children for three and a half hours each morning — loving, teaching and instilling the gospel in their hearts and lives.
“Those hungry-hearted children would memorize whole chapters of the Bible, and they would go home and they would share the good news,” she said.
The work also became a fulfillment of a call she had experienced during seminary to foreign missions. In the tough area of packing houses and animal stockyards where she ministered in East St. Louis, there were 13 different nationalities. “God said, ‘I’ve called you to foreign missions … and put you here at their doorsteps,'” she said.
Within a few years, she married Fred Propst, superintendent of missions for the East St. Louis Baptist Association. Their ministry eventually took them to the inner-city slums of Atlanta, which at the time led the nation statistically in crime.
Through Capitol Avenue Baptist Church, where her husband was pastor, she began a comprehensive program of ministries to children and families in the inner city.
“When we moved in, our tires were slashed … . [W]e were threatened, we were shot at, because the [criminals] who were prospering didn’t need any missionaries in that community to help bring these people to a new way of life,” she said.
But home by home, family by family, they began to reach people with the gospel through broad-based ministry. The church also began to deal with the inevitable changes that come when a prosperous and influential church begins to seriously minister to the poor in its community. Capitol Avenue, she said, made the transition well.
“The first Sunday that the doors of the church were open and the dirty little children came in, there was a little girl that came in at 11 o’clock. Her hair was straggling. Her clothes were wrong-side out, because the night before there had been fighting and cursing and abuse in her family,” Adamson said.
“And when she came in, one of the precious old women of that beautiful, old, sedate church reached out her arms and said, ‘Honey come sit with me.'”
One Wednesday night, she said, a milestone was reached as a former prostitute was approved by the congregation for membership. Later, Capitol Avenue continued its willingness to reach out by becoming one of the first churches to openly accept all races into its family.
Meanwhile, the ministry drew volunteers from throughout the city, including the more-affluent northern suburbs. Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, which started Capitol Avenue in 1880, was an early supporter and today continues as Adamson’s strongest ministry partner.
“Women, men and young people of wealth came to work in the inner city, and glorious, glorious, glorious has been the result,” she said. “There became a heart-to-heart, hand-to-hand sharing of the agape love of God.”
On that foundation began a ministry that Adamson said is still basically the same today in overall purpose as when she began, although the location has changed several times. Propst died in 1970, and she married educator Joseph L. Adamson in 1972.
What is now known as the Grant Park Baptist Mission has become more of a mobile ministry. Adamson visits many of the former residents of public housing who now have relocated throughout the metropolitan area. She still lives in the Grant Park area, allowing the homeless to leave their belongings on the porch of her small home, ministering to many of them personally on a daily basis.
“There’s some kind of ministry going on all the time, but it’s all Jesus-centered and intended to help the spiritual need,” she said.
The 74-year-old missionary lives not far from the train station in Atlanta, where she said goodbye to her parents on Nov. 13, 1950, to begin her ministry. A few days ago she returned on the anniversary of her departure.
“I went back down to those railroad tracks,” she said. “I wept. And I thanked God for the 49 years that he has sustained me.”

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  • James Dotson