The spring semester had just arrived at Countryside Christian Training Center in Clearwater, Florida, where I had been an instructor to ministry students for the last three years. My family had recently moved to a new home in a Tampa, Florida, suburb. The center was only 30 miles away, but unfortunately it meant traveling through congested freeways during morning rush hour.
As I approached the city, the traffic was backed up for miles. I remembered and turned onto an old route. It had been years since I had traveled this way. As I drove, I noticed a major transformation had taken place. Where once stood vibrant businesses and quaint homes, a dilapidated neighborhood and a sense of darkness prevailed.
When I awoke the next day, I had a strange desire to take the same route. As I drove through what most people would now call the ghetto, the Lord began to speak to my heart: "See the fields! Look with My eyes!" He started to show me the pain of the people living there.
I started attending city meetings on helping the urban poor. One of the first things I discovered was that people had been making countless attempts to feed and clothe the poor for many years. These efforts garnered only moderate success, and the dark spiritual climate basically stayed the same.
As I investigated deeper, it seemed the general outlook from suburban churches in the United States had been to send missions teams to the nations--while virtually ignoring the mission field in our country's urban cities. I came to the conclusion that what lies within our inner cities is a melting pot of nationalities and an untapped region of lost souls. Then I experienced this overwhelming revelation: Suburban churches reaching out to their inner cities is one of the "missing links" to what would usher in a great spiritual awakening in our land.
My wife, Kathy, and children, David and Tiffany, soon became involved. And our youth department started weekly prayer-evangelism walks. But what could our little church do?
The answer came from an unexpected source--our young people. With some investigation, they found and we leased an old, wooden house that soon became our little outpost. Ironically, the house once served as a drug haven for the neighborhood and was also surrounded by others just like it. What once was a place for evil to prevail, now was a stronghold for the Lord.
My son, David, and four young people moved into the outpost and began to love the surrounding people. Our church did special projects, such as block parties and meal runs to shut-ins.
A real breakthrough occurred when a local newspaper wrote an article on how five teens were changing the spiritual climate of the drug-infested area. When the article was published, it awoke a sleeping giant. Church after church came with manpower, financial help and provision. Overnight it became a community effort.
As the area's residents observed our unified service, they realized we were not serving our own agendas. The residents began to embrace us into their hearts, minds and lives. The spiritual climate changed from the bleak despair of evil to the healing light of Christ.
My questions to fellow suburban church leaders are: Could your church be the missing link for unlocking a citywide transformation? What are some small ways your congregation can positively affect the spiritual climate within the urban areas of your city? Can you trust God to supply all the resources needed to reach them?
Let me encourage you--when your people become the hands and feet of Christ, this becomes the missing link that brings new fire, excitement and dedication to everything else you do as a church.
Bill Craver is the founder and director of Tampa Bay Dream Center. For more information on his ministry, log on to the dream center's Web site at www.tbdreamcenter.org.