Friday, April 16,
Camden, New Jersey
Hope in a
Pulling out of the Philadelphia airport in my rental car, I realize
I am 20 minutes late for an appointment with Jack Schell, pastor of
Life Assembly of God in Camden, New Jersey, perhaps one of the more
gospel-resistant cities in the United States.
year, Jack, 56, and his wife, Dawn, felt stirred to start a church here.
They have spent many of their years in Teen Challenge ministry, church
planting, as well as suburban pastoral work. When they first walked
through the streets of Camden which has the second-highest murder
rate per capita in the country Jack felt a tremendous peace.
"I don't see any giants here," he told his family. "With
God's help, we can make a difference."
Today they walk those same streets, and people know them by name.
Every weekday, an average of 140 needy residents come to the church
for a luncheon. A church service is held before lunch and more than
half of them are there to seek God. Jack plays keyboard and Dawn leads
worship they alternate the preaching responsibility, and God
gives the increase. A week before my visit, six people who found Christ
through the feeding ministry were baptized in water. Sunday services
attract many new converts.
Jack and I sit in his office; and while we talk, at least four people
with desperate stories knock on his door seeking help. On one occasion,
Schell opens his wallet and gives the person several dollars. Turning
to me after the person leaves, Schell says, "When I have it
and I'm pretty confident it's not going to be used at the liquor store
or for drugs I'll do everything I can to help them. That's what
Jesus would do."
As we walk back to my car, a man approaches us seeking prayer for
high blood pressure. We lay hands on him and ask God for a miracle.
Tears come to the man's eyes as he hugs us.
I hug Jack farewell and tears come to my eyes tears of gratitude
that God has sent people like the Schells to share the message of hope
with such needy people.
On my way out of Camden I open the U.S. map on the seat next to me.
"Lord," I pray, "make this more than a writing assignment.
Do something in my heart." Little do I know what God has in store.
Friday, April 16
On the front lines
My trip begins in Pasadena with Jaren Lapasaran, 44, a missionary to
the United States who two years ago left a thriving church in Manila,
Philippines, to pioneer Filipino churches here. Lapasaran's grandparents
were among the first converts of Assemblies
of God missionaries in the Philippines, he says, showing me around the
facility where his congregation of 120 meets.
"I feel God is calling His generals out of the war rooms and
onto the front lines," he says. "Los Angeles has a rich heritage
for our Movement."
In Pasadena, several of Lapasaran's home groups are ready to become
churches, and he is eyeing other cities that need a strong Filipino
work. If his presence here is any indicator, America is increasingly
a missionary-receiving country.