My dad was police officer for the city of Houston in the 80’s and 90’s. During his time on the force he wore a number of hats, some more serious than others, but his most prominent area of patrol is known as Houston’s 4th Ward. 4th Ward is rich in history to both whites and blacks, but was an area of racial segregation within the city of Houston. Because blacks were not allowed in to reside within certain areas of the city, freed slaves purchased cheap land along Buffalo Bayou and established what came to be known as Freedman’s Town. During the years my dad patrolled the 4th Ward, drugs and gang violence ran rampant. Project row-housing, commonly called “Shotgun Houses,” were the typical dwelling place for the residence of the community. Many of these were dilapidated, burned out, and were havens for drug use and prostitution, among other crimes and distasteful activities. According to my dad, 4th Ward was the most dangerous and violent area of Houston.
Today, 4th Ward has had a facelift. In some cases, the row-housing has been replaced with luxury condos. In others, the row-housing has been replaced with affordable housing (which as I understand it was orchestrated by the Houston Housing Authority). Sadly, there is still a problem with crime, drug use, and violence; albeit has been on the decline due the work of many area pastors. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending much of the day touring the 4th Ward with one of these pastors, Elmo Johnson. Rev. Johnson pastors Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church, and has been there for over 30 years!
During our time together we discussed a variety of issues going on today, including the issues in Ferguson and Baltimore. We even had the exciting privilege to share Jesus with a gentleman who had been eves-dropping on our conversation. After we ate lunch, at my request, Rev. Johnson drove me around his community. He showed me schools that had been converted into African-American museums, he drove me by some of the oldest churches in the city, and he walked me across the street from his church and showed me the graves of the Allen brothers, who founded the city of Houston in 1836.
At the end of our time together he asked if I would be interested in teaming with his church to do a VBS this summer. It was everything I could do to keep my heart in my chest as it beat with excitement. Jesus says in Matthew 8:11, “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” This means people from all corners of the world, with all colors of skin, will be present at the table. To be part of this kind of Kingdom work excites me, humbles me, and puts me in awe of the greatness of God.
This also comes as the SBTC (Southern Baptists of Texas) kick off a new initiative called “Reach Houston.” I believe effective evangelism in the city of Houston is crucial because of the impact Houston has on the nation. I believe, if the low income neighborhoods and ghettos in Houston can be reached for Jesus we will see the sex slaves freed, drug dealers put out of business, and gang members transformed. The power of the Gospel is real, and the clarion call for evangelism and missions cannot be ignored. I for one am excited to see what the Lord is going to do in my city, and how he will use me to reach my neighbors. I pray other pastors will become as zealous for the lost of Houston, and together we can “Reach Houston.”
Standing where the pulpit would have been, in the remains of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church