CHURCHES PARTNER ACROSS DENOMINATIONS TO BROADEN GOD’S KINGDOM IN KALAMAZOO
Church cooperation is on the rise in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and leading to powerful reconciliation.
For a week each summer, churches work together on Jesus Loves Kalamazoo, an effort to engage neighbors and reach out through free outdoor barbecues. Five years ago, eight churches were involved. In 2013, there were 50.
“Coming out of that experience, the vision team for Jesus Loves Kalamazoo discerned that God was really calling us to do more than just that week of street ministry, but to really work toward the reconciliation of the body of Christ together for the sake of our city,” says Brian Stone, copastor of Haven Reformed Church.
“There was a vision that there was some real healing that needed to take place within the body—there were still too many divisions based on race, or economics, or location or size of church or style of church…the Pentecostal churches and the more traditional mainline congregations wouldn’t play together in the sandbox.
A “church problem”
“We were experiencing a famine in Kalamazoo—an increase in crime, an increase in drugs, an increase in the sex trade, an increase in illiteracy, homelessness, joblessness. We determined that that wasn’t a cultural issue, that wasn’t a society problem, that was a church problem.”
So Stone and James Harris, pastor of Trenches Community Church, had a vision for Healing the Land, a March gathering of local church leaders. Each person there looked at his or her own life and identified bitterness, resentment, or other roadblocks to unity with other Christians and other churches.
“The reason we’re doing this isn’t to have a good, warm, fuzzy feeling,” says Stone. “We want to be able to impact our city. We want to come together, arm in arm, and work for the good of our city.”
It was a powerful starting point. “We saw some tremendous healing take place,” Stone says, but he adds that the work of reconciliation is far from over. “We will do more along those lines,” he says, calling the initial event a stepping stone. In August, a small group of pastors met with some city leaders, and they’ll continue to build relationships.
Students are key
And in the meantime, Jesus Loves Kalamazoo continues—with more than 75 churches and ministries in 2014, a 50 percent increase over the year before. And a coordinated youth mission experience is also underway. High school students from local churches—10 in 2014—serve their own community rather than traveling to make a difference.
“The kids do mission work during the day, and then in the evening they go to a Jesus Loves Kalamazoo grill site. The people are divided up into teams to go out and do street ministry—[they] drag a cooler of water, and maybe they have popsicles and some little toys for small kids, and really just engage people who are outside. Meet them, give them some water, ask if they can be in prayer for them, and invite them to go to the grill site for a free dinner, where there are also people ready to engage them and have some children’s ministry and prayer and hospitality.”
Reconciliation and healing
The reconciliation taking place gives Stone a clear picture of God at work. “I’ve seen God really bring deep healing into people’s lives,” he says.
There’s still a lot to overcome, Stone says, but “there are places where we are seeing families restored, we are seeing people delivered from the sex trade, we are seeing people being delivered from drugs and alcohol, and we’re getting a glimpse of what it looks like when we are praying the Lord’s Prayer and we say, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done.’ We’re beginning to see what that looks like in Kalamazoo.
“When God’s people begin to truly love one another the way Jesus asks us to—that doesn’t mean we think the same—but when we choose to love one another and partner with one another, God shows up and does some really amazing things.”
At a recent Jesus Loves Kalamazoo prayer lunch, two public safety officers shared that the police force has noticed “something different” about the area, Stone says. Another Healing the Land event is being planned for February.
Photo by Overneath Media.