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Kennedy part 1

Kennedy part 2

Noonan part 1

Noonan part 2

 

Quincy, Illinois
The river’s fury is in full force south of Keokuk. Highway 61 is closed because of high water. We detour to the west in order to get to Quincy, Ill., a growing community of 39,700.

River traffic around Quincy has been at a standstill for a month. Barges carrying petroleum and grain sit idle because of high water. But it doesn’t compare to the 1993 flood. Along the Mississippi River that year, flooding caused $15 billion in damage and displaced more than 13,000 families. Water topped two-thirds of the levees built on the Upper Mississippi. After the Quincy levee broke, no bridge was passable between the Quad Cities and St. Louis, a distance of 275 miles.

Members of Bethel Assembly joined with those in the community in 1993 to sandbag and rebuild homes. Since then, levees have been raised. Pastor Barry Clair came to the historic church in 1993 in the midst of the flood. Bethel, started by evangelist Adele Carmichael and her husband, Richard, is located in an older neighborhood of Quincy. But Clair, 40, isn’t resting on laurels. Attendance has doubled to 350 during his tenure.

One of those touching the community is retired elementary school secretary Bonnie Gabel. She has been visiting female prisoners at the Adams County Jail once a month for six years. She knew many of the inmates when they were children and has led 20 of them to Christ.

"A lot of them went to Sunday school when they were little, so they have some knowledge of the Bible," Gabel says. "If they just need to talk, I’m there for them."

Hannibal, Missouri
Rain falls as we make our way to Hannibal, Mo., only 15 miles away. The day we visit, the river crests at more than 27 feet — 14 feet above flood stage — but not as high as the 31 feet in 1993.

Tabernacle of Praise is on a hill above Hannibal. Church members try to reach city kids through a sidewalk Sunday school. Earlier this week, 10 volunteers set up for 90 minutes in a city park where children memorized Scripture, sang songs and played games.

"We try to bring a message of God’s love and peace," says Rusty Miller, Praise Christian education director. "By taking the church to the streets we’re trying to meet these kids where they’re at, in neighborhoods that may not be easy to live in." From 20 to 45 children show up.

Hannibal has 18,000 residents, but between April and October 750,000 visitors descend on the city, known worldwide as the boyhood home of Mark Twain (1835-1910). His childhood memories formed the basis for many of his works. (Twain and I have something in common: We both wrote for the now-defunct Sacramento Union, although I did it 125 years later.)

"Everything in Hannibal is built on Mark Twain," says Delmar Blase, pastor at Tabernacle of Praise for 17 years. Tabernacle of Praise had 15 congregants when he began; now there are 525, three-fourths of them under 50.

Clearly tourism is king in Hannibal. Everything seems to be named for either the author or his characters – from Mark Twain Restaurant to Tom Sawyer Dioramas & Gifts. Floodwaters have put a crimp in tourism. Shop owners are grateful, however, that an earthen levee and flood wall are in place to save Main Street, a block from the water.

Alton, Illinois
Alton is located near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. The city has a population of only 32,900, but the community has not escaped the dangers of urban life such as gang violence.

Pastor Sam Henning asks me to pray for the leadership team before a contemporary outreach service, Sunday Night LIFE (laughter, instruction, fellowship and evangelism), in which he teaches on the Holy Spirit at Abundant Life Christian Center. Many of the 550 attendees in the blue-collar community commute to St. Louis. Abundant Life, facing indebtedness when Henning arrived a decade ago, has since burned the mortgage.

My son Zach enjoys the contemporary worship that features an up-tempo band with drums, guitars and the bass played by children’s pastor Mike Adams. Adams also is in charge of children’s ministry in the housing projects of Alton, an outreach that grew out of a Convoy of Hope five years ago.

Once a month Abundant Life sends Kids Quake teams to a housing project to present the gospel outdoors. The church received a grant from the county to purchase a portable sound system, handbells, clown gear, prizes for kids, barbecue and puppets.

"When we decided to reach a need in the community, we suddenly discovered resources we never knew existed," Adams says. "We try to give a message of hope to many who may seem to be in hopeless situations."

St. Louis, Missouri

Blending traditions: Nigerian worship leader Raphael Kponee mixes African and American songs and styles.

St. Louis is the final leg of our six-day journey. The river doesn’t pose a threat here as downtown St. Louis is protected by a 52-foot flood wall. But the city has been hurt by urban blight.

A century ago St. Louis was the nation’s fourth largest city. The population has plummeted since 1950 — the year Berea Temple relocated to the corner of Compton and Russell. Now only 348,000 live in the city.

At one point 700 people worshipped on Sunday mornings at Berea Temple, which ran 13 buses. These days the neighborhood is populated by AIDS patients, prostitutes and drug users. Berea Temple averages two break-ins a month. A bullet hole from a drive-by shooting pocks a back door.

But because church members have reached out to a diverse neighborhood, Berea Temple isn’t in the throes of death. Three times a year, members knock on doors in a mile radius to talk about Jesus and the church. Today the church is 40 percent white and 40 percent Nigerian. Immigrants from Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Congo, Afghanistan and Iran worship here. The 200 congregants have little in common — except the Lord.

Pastor Stephen Zemanek has been at Berea Temple for two years, arriving about the same time as the Nigerians. They are members of four Nigerian tribes which include the Ogoni, a minority ethnic group displaced from their homeland when oil was discovered.

Many of those who came had first accepted Christianity in Nigeria through missionary efforts and then sought a Pentecostal church in St. Louis. Berea Temple provides clothing and food for new arrivals.

Blending the nationalities is important, for with each new nationality represented come a different language, culture and personality traits.

"I never thought I’d be preaching in a church where women covering their heads in the sanctuary would be a major issue, but it is here," says Zemanek, 32.

Another noticeable difference is that Nigerians and Congolese have many young children.

Existing members have embraced the newcomers and put them into leadership positions. The church now has two Nigerian board members, a Nigerian worship leader and a Nigerian choir. Ogoni singing often is spontaneous and a cappella.

"We’re not the same and we’re not pretending to be," Zemanek says. "But we can come together and we have a relationship."

Nigerian refugee Happiness Anue leads the choir. She composed many of the songs. Each number is preceded by teaching. "We all have our own pharaohs," she says before one song. "We need to be free to worship God."

Worship leader Raphael Kponee instructs before congregational songs, which are both American and Nigerian praise and worship choruses. He lived in a Benin refugee camp for three and a half years. "It was a horrible experience," he recalls. "I worshipped and prayed to God for deliverance." That came in July 1999. He is a warehouse clerk in St. Louis. In Nigeria he had been an environmental fisheries expert.

"God is going to open the doors to revival and many shall join us," Kponee says.

Kennedy part 1

Kennedy part 2

Noonan part 1

Noonan part 2

 

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