Answering the Call to a Neighborhood Ripe for Ministry
The southeast Fort Wayne neighborhood to which the Rev. Javier Mondragon moved his family in late 2007 was ripe for ministry. The recession was in full swing; unemployment stood at 10 percent; many residents lived below poverty level; and the area saw more than its fair share of crime.
As he began talking to neighbors, Mondragon realized that the south campus Grace Point Church of the Nazarene planned to open would exclude many people if it offered only Spanish-language services. About a quarter of the population in that part of the city was Hispanic, 60 percent was African-American, and 17 percent was white.*
So instead of launching the Hispanic church his denomination had planned, Mondragon offered a more comprehensive approach to reaching the neighborhood. He’d preach in Spanish, his wife Annette would translate into English, and people could sing in either tongue during worship.
“My wife thought it was a very different idea, but that it just might work,” Mondragon recalls. He felt compelled to make it happen. “I really felt that it was what God was calling us to do: to reach out to the community and reflect its makeup.”
Serving Their Neighbors
After much prayer, the church opened its doors on Easter Sunday 2008, welcoming more than 100 people from a variety of cultures. The following week, 12 people accepted the Lord as their savior. “It was wonderful,” Mondragon said.
Then, church volunteers knocked on neighbors’ doors, asking people about their needs. Overwhelmingly, the response was: “We don’t feel safe here,” Mondragon said.
Crime is a problem in the area, but another factor leading to distrust was that neighbors didn’t know each other, Mondragon says. The neighborhood association was inactive, renters moved in and out, and many people didn’t interact with one another.
So the south campus of Grace Point Church set out to change that. Block by block, they started helping people make improvements that can deter crime: trimming overgrown shrubs, improving outdoor lighting, and installing better locks. They also sought to build relationships among neighbors, so they could watch out for one another.
In 2012, the church founded the Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministry Center. It’s a non-profit organization that serves as the umbrella organization for the church’s outreach ministries, including Adopt-a-Block, a food pantry, and a tutoring program for the students at the public elementary school across the street. Their goal is to be a light in the area, offering hope to the community.
“We don’t see compassionate ministries as an end goal,” says Zis Milentis, Bridge of Grace’s executive director. “We see it as a means to an end. We want to see lives transformed.”
Making an Impact
You can see a difference in the neighborhood since Grace Point’s south campus opened its doors. The city’s police chief even credits the church with lowering crime in that area.
But the most beautiful thing that Mondragon has seen is the love demonstrated among church members, many of whom do not speak the same language.
“I’d say that the success is the acceptance that people have created here,” Mondragon says. “When you come to a service, you just feel accepted. You’re welcome, no matter what race you are, what language you speak. We always say that you don’t need to speak my language to know that I love you. You just know when someone loves you.”
For more information about Grace Point Church, visit gpnaz.org and select South Campus.
To learn about Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministry Center, visit bridgeofgracecmc.org.
Grace Point South Gallery
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