Rural Illinois church partners with transformational inner-city ministry
By Pastor Brian Romanowski
Pastor Brian Romanowski of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Mahomet, Ill., recently shared this story with the Rev. Glynis LaBarre, who leads the Missional Church Learning Experience (MCLE) for American Baptist Home Mission Societies. While FBC is part of American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region, it has not participated in MCLE. FBC “is not an MCLE church—that’s part of its beauty,” says LaBarre. “The missional movement is growing, and people are creating their own way.”
Six years ago, a family from First Baptist Church (FBC) of Mahomet, Ill., visited Christian Activity Center (CAC), East St. Louis, Ill., and returned with the vision that the church host a mission trip to CAC. The following year, a small group of church members participated.
Since that time, the small, rural church has continued to take an annual mission trip to CAC, and the number of participants has increased significantly. In the last two years, the church has taken a group of more than 30 people, including individuals from other churches that have caught the vision for CAC’s ministry.
East St. Louis leads the nation in childhood poverty, with 58 percent of children growing up in ‘extreme poverty,’ compared to 17 percent nationally,” according to CAC’s brochure. “CAC’s immediate sphere of influence is … Olivette Park, [where] … 61 percent of families are living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.”
In the midst of the darkness, CAC stands as a bright light, offering the transforming power of God. The neighborhood has been transformed by CAC’s presence, and CAC’s influence continues to expand. With its after-school and summer programs, CAC has a dramatic effect on the lives of the hundreds of kids enrolled in its programs each year. Students learn about the Good News and spend time reading and studying about Jesus. CAC’s impact is apparent in the lives that have been changed.
“In 1989, 50 percent of neighborhood youth were gang affiliates, 50 percent failed to complete high school, and 13 percent of teenage girls presented with pregnancy,” according to the brochure. “Today, fewer than 5 percent of youth are gang affiliates, juvenile crime has dropped 80 percent in the neighborhood, 90 percent of youth graduate from high school, 84 CAC ‘graduates’ have gone to and through college and teen pregnancy is under 2 percent.”
During the five years of FBC’s outreach, I have never felt unsafe at CAC. The kids are friendly and happy to have us there. CAC staff members are followers of Jesus, modeling his love and care toward others. Of the staff members from East St. Louis, some grew up attending CAC before going to college and returning to CAC to continue life-changing ministry. Others were called by God from other places.
The people of FBC have developed a heart to partner in what God is doing at CAC, showing his love to people—no matter their place of residence or color of their skin. We are all God’s children, and he loves us all. He calls us to do the same.
Brian Romanowski is pastor at FBC of Mahomet.