I believe in the power of specific, fervent prayers. God wants us to know what we are asking for and why (and when we don’t know, or can’t articulate, the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf). God answers prayer in His way….not our way. His answers are often, ‘no’…’not yet’…’not that way’….and occasionally, ‘yes’. And, He answers prayer in the 11th hour, [in my case, adding unnecessary chaos to my life as a result of me wanting answers NOW]. Answering in the last minute teaches us to have faith in Him. [I’m experiencing this right now and I’m realizing that He’s not going to answer how I expect Him to….and, He’s not going to respond quickly…..He’s going to TAKE.HIS.TIME. In doing so, He’s strengthening my faith in Him.]
Ok….so why and how is God on the move in a big way in Charlotte? And what does prayer have to do with it?
Almost three years ago, Charlotte experienced significant civil unrest and protests in our city center. I had been traveling and arrived back into uptown Charlotte to SWAT vehicles parked in front of my condo building. [In my humble opinion, CNN made it look much worse than it was.] In subsequent days of protests, I often walked around uptown Charlotte praying for the protesters, police officers and my beloved city of Charlotte. I saw a city grieving for a person who had lost his life, but I also saw a city grieving for the lost opportunity of so many of its citizens. [And, I saw a city where many people were caught completely unaware of the issues that led to protests and were not prepared for a response by those who were/are affected.]
The protests were in immediate response to a black man who was shot by a police officer and were a catalyst for protesting issues that have been bubbling in our city for decades [actually, I could probably make the argument that the issues have been bubbling for generations].
Around the same time as the protests, a study came out ranking Charlotte dead last in upward mobility. I’ve mentioned this study before, but in case you missed it….. it is harder to climb out of poverty in Charlotte than in any other major US metro area. Opportunity is not translating to those who live at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. [If you want to know more, check out the study that ranked Charlotte last.]
The protests in Uptown and the Chetty study (as it’s called locally) were a wake-up call for Charlotte. And, a wake-up call for the church.
What happened next? Prayer. For discernment, wisdom, guidance and action. By lots and lots and lots of people. In those days after the first night of protests, I wasn’t alone in walking the streets of Charlotte with specific, fervent prayers. I encountered many others who were there, including Sam, the ‘Jesus Saves Guy’ who proclaims the Gospel in the heart of the city.
A response to the protests and the [reality of the] study has been sloooooooow in the making. Many organizations hosted round tables, town halls, forums………lots and lots and lots of talking. That talking has [finally] begun to mobilize resources and action…..both private and public.
The city responded with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force and a strategy and initiative called Leading on Opportunity.
But, in Charlotte, a city with more churches per capita than nearly anywhere else in the US, the church is the answer to upward mobility. And, the church is responding.
At first it felt like every church was doing its own thing in response to the upward mobility gap/need (and it still feels like that at times), but then….
In February 2018, For Charlotte coordinated a conference called Movement Day to get all of the churches and faith community together to talk about how we are and should be responding. It was a LOT of talking. Which is a little frustrating for someone like me who is more into ACTION. But, it was still good. Many people in Charlotte, who live in the crescent weren’t aware of the lack of opportunity in other parts of Charlotte (see comment above about the response to the protests). Movement Day allowed those people (who maybe had been living under a rock) to catch up. [For a summary, see what For Charlotte has put together on Upward Mobility.]
It was a day full of fervent, specific prayer…. for Charlotte…..and her people.
And, it was an opportunity to highlight many of the wonderful things the church has been involved in and is leading.
One of those highlights was the work that is being done at Camino Community Center. Camino partners with UNCC and other organizations to provide healthcare, behavioral health, economic opportunity services and most importantly, hope through sharing the Gospel, to more than 20,000 people a year, with a focus on the Latinx community. I recently joined the board of Camino and am incredibly proud of the approach we take in working across sectors (private, public, non-profit and faith). God is on the move in connecting Camino to resources in the community to do MORE…..lots and lots MORE. He is responding to specific, fervent prayers for those resources…..in a way that none of us could ever have imagined.
And, He’s on the move in our city’s churches….
The church that I attend, Forest Hill, is one church with six campuses. Last weekend, we ALL met at the BB&T ballpark. [It was the first time we had ALL worshiped at one location.] Our senior pastor, David Chadwick shared the 2030 Vision for our church. He opened with a reminder about the great commission that is outlined in Matthew 28:18-20 [go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.] David broke the verses down to this: God gave us a CO-mission. We are called to partner with Him to make disciples of all nations. To carry the Gospel to others, alongside God.
Every member of the church is a Gospel-carrier. We must all work towards transforming and empowering ALL communities by the hope of the Gospel….starting at home, here in Charlotte. You can find out more about the Forest Hill vision here.
Vision is important, but ACTION [in response to prayer] is most important.
[I am not saying that Forest Hill isn’t into action….in fact, I think my church is one of the best in walking the talk….if I could write more, I’d write all about our partnerships with two low-income schools…but sometimes it’s harder for a large church to be involved in minute details of a neighborhood in need…..which is why Forest Hill partners with other organizations, like Camino and CMDC.]
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center (CMDC) is a ministry that is all about action in response to prayer and being aware of the minute details of a neighborhood/people group in need (same as Camino!). Since implementing their Adopt-A-Block (AAB) program in the J.T. Williams neighborhood in February 2016, CMDC has witnessed crime rates drop from 1.8 crimes per week to 1.2 crimes per week. In the Reid Park neighborhood, where AAB started in April 2016, they have seen crime drop from an astonishing 5.3 crimes per week to 1.6 crimes per week. More than crime reduction, they’ve helped people access better housing and schools for their families. Neighborhoods are becoming communities. And most importantly, people are being exposed to the Gospel and accepting Jesus as their savior.
Change is happening. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back. Trust me, I get it. I pour my heart and soul into a family only to watch them make choices that don’t improve their situation. It’s heart wrenching. But, it’s also a process. We can’t expect change to happen overnight. God is working slowly…in the 11th hour…teaching us to have faith in Him.
God’s answer to our prayers about our city involve each one of us. Stealing a few sentences from the book that I’m currently reading, Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey, “Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah have scathing words about the need to care for widows and orphans and aliens, and to clean up corrupt courts and religious systems. The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.”
All things are possible with God. But, as Augustine said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” We are here to pray, do and partner with others and God to bring heaven to earth. We are here on a CO-mission with God.
God is on the move in Charlotte because the church is taking up its mandate of proclaiming the good news and doing something about it. He’s not going about it in the way that any of us thought He would. And, He’s doing it in His timing. But, He’s doing it…. using Forest Hill, Camino, CMDC and so many other churches, ministries and Gospel-carriers.
Stop and think for a second. What’s your role in this CO-mission?
Are you serving as a Gospel-carrier? What can you do to make the Queen City, the King City?