Convoy of Hope reaches
out to inner-city neighborhood
By Isaac Olivarez
in Camden, N.J. (7/27/03)
grounds and a continued threat of chilly wind and rain, volunteers
begin unloading 40,000 pounds of groceries from a Convoy of
Hope semitrailer at 7 a.m. on the corner of Park and Baird in
downtown Camden, N.J.
Parkside, the site
of the May 17 outreach, is considered one of the most dangerous
neighborhoods in the country, even though it is across the street
from Camden High School and the Boys & Girls Club of Camden
County. This corner of Farnham Park is known for drug and alcohol
abuse, violent crimes and prostitution. Just a couple of weeks
ago a man was murdered here.
But today Farnham
Park is being transformed into a distribution center for free
food, as well as free haircuts, medical screenings, dental hygiene
products and — most significantly — hope in Jesus
“God is going
to plant a seed that’s going to change the mind-set of
this city,” says Harold Sutton, pastor of Life Assembly
of God in Camden and coordinator of the outreach. Sutton notes
that more than half the children in Camden are raised in single-parent
homes, and families often feel they have no hope. “People
are going to see that truly there is a God and truly there are
people that want to serve.”
More than 625 volunteers
from 72 New Jersey churches are on hand to facilitate guests,
drawing the attention of Gwendolyn A. Faison, Camden’s
mayor. She commends Convoy for wanting to improve the quality
of life and meet the needs of Camden residents.
“I give [Convoy]
all my blessing and welcome them to stay as long as they want
to and come back as often as they want to,” Faison tells
Nelson Vasquez, 45,
is one of 15 volunteers from Lighthouse Tabernacle A/G in Lumberton,
a 30-minute drive east of Camden. Vasquez says he was addicted
to drugs by age 11 in the South Bronx, N.Y. He later joined
the U.S. Army after a judge gave him the option of going to
jail or enlisting in the military. Five years into his tour
of duty in 1980 he accepted Christ as Savior. He retired from
the Army 15 years later.
“I was lost
and somebody helped me, so I want to bless somebody back,”
By 9 a.m., the first
of 10,000 hot dogs are on the grill, and the line of Parkside
residents has swelled to several hundred.
“We want you
to know the Church of Camden loves you and Jesus loves you,”
COH National Director Michael Redmon tells guests entering the
park as the outreach begins. Within minutes, Farnham Park resembles
a county fair. Live music fills the air. Children — balloons
in one hand, hot dogs in the other — scamper about while
teens and adults amble through six tents to receive free services.
At the ministry tent, Sutton preaches a mini-sermon to guests.
“Jesus is the
answer for what the devil has meant for evil — the struggles
you’re going through right now,” says Sutton, sharing
how his family’s house burned down when he was a child.
“Jesus can bring you out of whatever your situation is.
My greatest desire today is to know that as you leave here with
food in your hands you leave here with the fullness of Jesus
Christ.” After the sermon, Sutton leads several guests
through the sinner’s prayer.
30, makes a decision to accept Christ as Savior. Her home on
Kenwood Avenue is a two-minute walk from Farnham Park.
“I just heard
about the food,” Gilmore says. “I didn’t know
it was about Jesus. But I want to make a change in my life.
It feels good to have people around you that care.”
By the afternoon,
Irving Fryar, a familiar name to not only Camden residents but
also any pro-football fan, shares with guests at the ministry
tent how Christ changed his life. Fryar, who had a 17-year NFL
career, was born half an hour away from Camden in Mount Holly.
“I had all
the money, but I had no hope,” says Fryar, whose playing
time included three seasons across the Delaware River with the
Philadelphia Eagles. “I played in front of thousands of
fans, but I was alone. It was only when I gave my life to Jesus
Christ that life became worth living.”
Guests flood the
stage in response to the altar call during the last service
of the outreach. By the end of the day groceries have been distributed
to 3,588 Camden residents. Of those, 446 people have accepted
Christ as Savior.