When one person submitted her life to Christ, a series of transformations followed that are making a Kingdom impact.
Growing up in the Church of the Nazarene and now raising the third generation of Nazarenes in our family is not a unique story; at least not at first glance. But a closer look reveals some distinct elements that have shaped my journey.
I grew up believing every word I learned and memorized in Sunday school and various other church activities, even accepting a call from God to be a missionary at the age of 12. In the years following, my tide shifted and I began to drift. The enemy systematically led me away from the call on my life and away from the church. Years later, in September of 2001, I finally came to the end of myself and cried out to God, submitting to His will for my life.
Pekin First Church of the Nazarene (PFN) in Pekin, Illinois, USA, has had some phenomenal leadership in these past 91 years. PFN is the mother of several church planting efforts and has also implemented a unique program called “Think Big,” a program that provides missions opportunities for every age group at least once a year.
PFN impacted my life greatly when they called me, a single mom with two teenage daughters, to become a missionary to a nearby community. They provided a parsonage for us to move incarnationally into the targeted area of Peoria, Illinois’ Southside that we had claimed for the Kingdom of God.
Through my role as director of Southside Community Center (SCC), the Lord has provided a space for me to explore His vision and to implement a system of care for the most vulnerable children and their families.
Today I can thank Him and give Him all the glory.
Life is not always easy in Southside. It is the second most economically depressed zip code in Illinois, and there are no grocery stores across a two-zip code area. It is also not safe—the homicide rate has drastically increased over the past two years. People cannot dream when they are living in survival mode. SCC exists to provide a safe space in the community for children and their families. How are we going to raise up indigenous leaders of future church plants if they never have a safe place warmed by the light of Jesus?
What if we never help them explore and discover who God created them to be?
The Lord has assembled an army of leaders at the right time to accomplish every objective and goal of the Southside Community Center’s planning year. For example, two pastors from different churches approached me about starting a Dinner Church in conjunction with SCC, not knowing that this idea was already on the strategic plan. In May 2018, we launched our first Dinner Church at SCC, through which we were able to feed the community a hot meal and also expose them to the truth of the gospel. By June, we launched our second Dinner Church in a public housing complex near the SCC building. We are asking God to help us plant a network of Dinner Churches all across the area.
SCC offers creative gospel saturation ministries like Dinner Churches, parent support and education programing, and youth leadership development. SCC has been successful in understanding the needs of the families of our Southside community. Our summer day camp program partnered with the school district’s summer feeding program, providing breakfast and lunch to over 65 children spanning 14 weeks of the summer. Between Dinner Church on Tuesday and Thursday nights and the summer feeding program, hundreds are being fed a delicious meal while their souls are being filled with the gospel message. Other projects, including Prayer Force and Grow Peoria Urban Garden Project are unfolding beautifully as we continue to move toward our goals.
Through the voices of our many volunteers, SCC hears the needs of our community and designs interventions to make the most effective Kingdom impact.
Many lives have been changed as a result. Miss Winnell, now a grandmother, raised her seven sons on her own. She has watched Peoria change over the years and knows firsthand the effects of poverty and trauma. Her kind heart is why she is known as one of the “mothers” of the community.
By God’s grace, Miss Winnell heard about our work at SCC at just the right time. We were praying and working to launch our free summer day camp and feeding program. We had collaborated with a local Free Methodist church and the Housing Authority to bring on volunteers to help run the program. We had our plan, our partnerships, and all of the programing laid out. All we needed were the kids!
We canvased the housing complex and neighborhood that around SCC for registrations, but we struggled to gain the trust of the mothers. It became clear that we needed help to overcome that obstacle. Miss Winnell was the answer. Her presence was the endorsement we needed, and she helped bring over 60 children for an average attendance of 15 children per day. Miss Winnell is still my right-hand volunteer, and she is so excited to be a part of an effective movement to provide a safe place for children and their families.
Miss Ethel and her family are another great example of transformation. She has a powerful story of God’s deliverance from a life of addiction. She brings her family to the SCC to be saturated in the gospel, and she and her husband help with Dinner Church. Her husband James, a GED literacy coach, volunteers in the literacy center, while Miss Ethel works in our Substance Abuse recovery group and helps with the M.O.M.S. (moms offering moms support) Group. We are blessed by their efforts and enjoy watching God continue to work in their lives!
SCC has seen the biggest transformation in the community volunteers. We know God brings heart transformation, and we pray that He will continue to build His Kingdom in our community!
Irene Lewis-Wimbley is Director of Southside Community Center in Peoria, Illinois, USA.
Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2019.