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Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

Pastors predict bleak future if local casinos open (12/28/03)

Soap, figurines, candles keep books company in Christian stores (12/21/03)

In order to form a more perfect union (11/30/03)

Federal Marriage Amendment receives Fellowship’s endorsement (11/23/03)

Drug czar congratulates Teen Challenge (11/16/03)

Christian fiction no long back-shelf item (10/19/03)

DREAM3 benefits churches (10/19/03)

Youth rise to DC03 challenge (10/12/03)

Ministry uses drama, music to touch city for Christ (9/28/03)

Displeased viewers protest raunchy programs (9/21/03)

Grit, determination key to cities blocking cable pornography (8/31/03)

Economic slump doesn't always derail giving (8/24/03)

Ruling threatens family, Christian leaders say (8/17/03)

Anti-aging options require balanced approach to health, beauty (8/10/03)

Convoy of Hope reaches out to inner-city neighborhood (7/27/03)

Fight for the flag moves to nation’s schools (7/20/03)

Drama speaks volumes to alienated veterans (7/13/03)

Church's integrity well received following nightmarish ordeal (6/29/03)

Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation's midsection (6/22/03)

Accountability partners provide human feedback that filters don't (6/15/03)

Checking out your horoscope? God advises you to skip it (6/8/03)

Christian filmmakers pursue wider market success (5/25/03)

Intervention is key to preventing suicide (5/18/03)

Adoption often right decision for young expectant mothers (5/11/03)

Dallas-based ministry keeps inmates out of jail (4/27/03)

Medical analysis of Jesus' death generates interest (4/20/03)

Small-town church reaches community (4/13/03)

Young married couples lulled by false sense of security (3/30/03)

Virtual gambling days may be numbered (3/23/03)

Contemporary Christian music copes with its continuing success (3/16/03)

A/G prayer event set for gathering in nation's capital (3/9/03)

Volunteers give church voice in community (2/23/02)

Federal law protects churches in zoning battles (2/16/03)

Singles find cyberspace dating not always match made in heaven (2/9/03)

Predators often plan strategies long in advance (1/19/03)

The Cross and the Switchblade still makes impact 40 years later (1/12/03)

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Ministry uses drama, music to touch city for Christ

By Isaac Olivarez (9/28/03)

Not many churches think of the arts when it comes to ministering to inner-city kids. Yet, more than 500 students have enrolled in the eight-week courses at the Hope Center Fine Arts Academy, which meets on weekends and during the summer in Jersey City, N.J. Within weeks, students’ grades get better, behavior and attitudes in school improve, and their artwork is exhibited in various galleries — alongside the work of the professionals who tutored them.

The Hope Center, founded by Assemblies of God U.S. missionaries Mario and Leigh Gonzalez in 2001, uses the arts to help troubled inner-city youth discover and cultivate their talents through a variety of artistic and musical expressions. Though 60 percent of the Hope Center’s students cannot afford the lessons, scholarship programs and a sliding fee scale provide them an affordable alternative to other learning centers, which can charge more than $100 per hour. Professional artists and musicians teach the classes, giving students the privilege of being mentored by teachers who have flourished in their field. But the Hope Center, which has classes for age groups ranging from toddlers to those in their early 20s, isn’t an ordinary fine arts institution.

“Art belonged to God in the beginning and it still belongs to God,” Mario Gonzalez says. “We’ve tapped into the true source of creativity and beauty, and that’s Christ.” Gonzalez says the Hope Center’s focus on holiness has sustained the ministry, which also includes drama and writing programs, sound and video engineering, a soup kitchen and counseling. “God has called us to create a culture of worship,” Gonzalez says. “Worship is not something you do with your mouth, it’s something you do with your life. When we walk with Him, people see living examples of what worship really is.”

Duda Penteado, who moved to the United States from Sâo Paulo, Brazil, in 1995, is full-time director of the Hope Center Fine Arts Academy. Penteado’s art is displayed in universities and museums throughout New York City and Brazil. He says art is a form of worship. “Christian art comes from our relationship with the living God,” he says. “Art can be a powerful form of worship, as well as writing, music and video.” Instructors at the academy, Penteado says, share that belief.

“We have teachers who love the Lord,” he says. “But they’re well-trained and skillful, so students’ anointings will be nurtured.” The Hope Center has teams that travel throughout New Jersey performing in parks, churches, district council-sponsored gatherings and other venues. More than 800 people have accepted Christ as Savior at the events this year.

The Hope Center recently released an album featuring its principle worship minister, singer and songwriter Sam Cintron. The album features the center’s worship team and choir. The Hope Center’s music — as its art, drama and poetry — is entirely original.

Leigh Gonzalez says it’s time for the church to dictate culture, rather than allowing culture to be dictated to the church. “What we do is absolutely useless and without power unless we insist on living holy lives,” says Gonzalez, who serves as vice president of operations.

Besides gaining acceptance with Jersey City’s inner-city youth, the Hope Center has found favor with local government officials, church leaders and area residents. For Leigh and Mario Gonzalez, Penteado and Cintron, it’s no surprise.

“We took the church to the city and the city has responded,” Mario Gonzalez says. “When you show Jesus for who He is, people respond.”

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