Plot Twist: Grim Story Set to Become Tale of Transformation in Mississippi
By Carl Stagner
Across the country, churches are choosing not to yield in the face of difficulty, but instead persevere through the pandemic. With cautious boldness, churches like Armstrong Street Church of God in Batesville, Mississippi, have taken steps to enhance existing, and develop new, ministries to change the story in their community. Though societal snapshots and cultural trends have painted a grim picture of the present problems facing local families, especially children and teens, the Church of God congregation immediately sees what can be. Led by Pastor Terry Townsend, the church is helping write a new chapter for their community, setting the stage for a grim story to become a tale of transformation.
Excited to unleash a big blessing on their neighborhood, Armstrong Street Church of God planned a drive-by barbecue lunch and school backpack giveaway at noon on Sunday, July 26. An hour later, they’d host a public discussion on social justice with local pastors and law enforcement. Moved by the Spirit, these Jesus people were anticipating putting their faith into action right up until their journeys led them to an unexpected roadblock: their beloved pastor had tested positive for COVID-19, requiring the postponement of their plans.
Thankfully, Pastor Terry is recovering after having spent a few days in the hospital. As serious as the matter was, he’s adamantly anticipating seeing their outreach plans come to pass. In the meantime, as the need for backpacks was imminent, the church opted to donate the backpacks to two local elementary schools. Knowing the church’s missional ministries aren’t dependent upon any one special event mitigated the postponement’s impact on the congregation. The outward orientation of this family of faith is continually reflected in the church’s ongoing community involvement. One of the major ways Armstrong Street Church of God strives to change the story in their community is mentoring.
“HOPE Mentoring” is the church’s response to the illiteracy, joblessness, insufficient recreational opportunities, and general hopelessness. The program recruits volunteers from the church and links them with middle school and junior-high-aged youth. From reading clubs, to food drives, to character-building experiences and job-skills training, Armstrong Street’s mentoring ministry “seizes every opportunity to reach youth and young adults.” Their partnership with community care programs, youth court, and local schools further their effectiveness.
“Reaching youth and young adults has been my heart burden for many years,” explains Terry Townsend, who served many years in youth ministry before becoming a senior pastor. “I worked part-time at a local park, the neighborhood hangout for the youth and young adults. My time there is where my heart’s desire to work with the organization in my neighborhood really developed… We had several shootings that were thought to be gang-related and we worked with other pastors to keep the peace during those times. It was then that I saw the need, and the ways I could use, the light of the gospel. So, we developed a sports league and other events geared to reach the youth, including those most at-risk, with access to the gospel. The park is the hangout, but it became a battlefield for ministry because of the lack of positive things for the local neighborhood. This need led us to form Hope Mentoring, sponsored by Armstrong Street Church of God.”
Hope Mentoring also offers tutoring and free computer access for youth who sign up to participate. The church also has a history of offering a variety of summer camps to area students.
“The more we reach, remind, and remain constant in the work of the Lord, the more we build relationships that last in the heart of our city and community,” Terry reflects. “The more we do, the more the community will look for the congregation to be there for them in both the good and bad times…the seeds we plant will have lasting effects.”
Can you imagine the lasting effects of these efforts? As Armstrong Street Church of God celebrates what God has accomplished through their faithful obedience, CHOGnews will be there to tell the tale of transformation
Armstrong Street Church of God is one of several congregations this year to receive a Change the Story grant. In these dire times communities are experiencing desperate need, and churches are struggling to respond. The Change the Story Fund exists to help congregations meet local, critical needs. Your gift of as little as $10 will provide micro grants that empower churches to Change the Story in their communities. Learn more and invest with your generous gift today at www.jesusisthesubject.org/change-the-story.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
*Feature (top) photo: Pastor Terry (back left) and Hope Mentoring touring the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.