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Breaking Down the Barriers





Pastor Randy and Maribel Landis are living proof that God can use ordinary people to shatter the racial, cultural and denominational barriers that typically divide the church.

At first glance, it looks like a picturesque postcard. Posing as America's little getaway, this town is complete with historical museums loaded with 17th-century European paintings and unique sculptures. In the spring, its tree-lined streets and cobblestone roads exude warmth and friendliness. In the winter, blankets of snow beckon children to play.

But Allentown, Pennsylvania, is anything but the typical, off-the-beaten path Small Town, USA. As thousands of travelers rush through Allentown's bustling Lehigh Valley International Airport, many of the city's 106,000 residents scurry to their daily routines.

Allentown boasts a multicultural society. Even Billy Joel, in his hit song, "Allentown," sang the city's praises. Allentonians pride themselves on their rich, ethnic diversity, and the thriving medical industry keeps the flourishing economy strong.

City life, however, isn't the only thing moving at warp speed in this place. People in search of a church moving in the Spirit head south on Airport Road and turn left on Union Boulevard. They proceed seven blocks and stop at the corner of Maxwell and East Cedar Street, arriving at Church on the Move (COTM).

COTM has spent years moving through the hearts of Christians and unbelie vers alike. While the ministry is building bridges of unity in the body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, its message of hope draws people by the droves. The church motto frames its mission as "The Gathering Place" for the downtrodden, the disenfranchised and the wounded.

What seems to resound the loudest, however, is its heart for racial reconciliation among blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics and other ethnic groups. And no one knows this any better than the church's senior pastor, Randy Landis, and his wife, Maribel. As an interracial couple--he is white, and she is from the Dominican Republic--the Landises have sown seeds of unity in the hearts of their racially diverse congregants.

Randy and Maribel seek to model the love of Christ by precept and example. Randy reflects that his interracial marriage is just one of the reasons the ministry attracts the kind of people it does.

"It takes being very sensitive to the ethnic diversity and cultural differences that are among us," he says. "It is a great challenge to help others move from a position of tolerance to a position of acceptance while embracing our differences and celebrating them." Landis knows it is a process and that people go through the journey at their own pace.

Married for 15 years, the couple doesn't flaunt their distinction. Instead, they exemplify the biblical principle that marriage is symbolic of the church. As with other interracial marriages, it is not uncommon for this husband and wife ministry team to experience obstacles that are a direct result of their color. But they say it's a challenge they are willing to take on.

"God ordained marriage, and we know He is faithful to protects us," Maribel says. The couple is used to stares and whispers, but they have weathered people's comments and reactions well.

Conservatively speaking, 60 percent of COTM's members are people of color, and 40 percent are white. But something happens to people as they rush through the doors of the 11,000-square-foot sanctuary. With uplifted hands, they seek God together through Spirit-led worship and passionate praise, regardless of racial background.

Maybe that's why Tanya Brown finds it easy to come here. "I love this church because you can get totally lost in the presence of God here," she says. "It's really interesting--when I come here, I don't even notice whether the person standing next to me is Asian or white." And as far as the Landises are concerned, that is the way God intended it to be.

Ministries Today spoke with the Landises about their ministry in Allentown and racial reconciliation in the body of Christ. Their story is inspiring and offers hope to those who are willing to yield their lives to Christ.

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Randy Landis was born and raised in Allentown and says starting a church in his hometown was his greatest challenge. "It had nothing to do with the racial makeup of the city nor its economic status," he says. "It was just the thought of growing up here as a child, as a teen-ager and then being transformed because of Christ."

But the young pastor rose to the occasion and started mapping out ways to draw people to the Lord. He decided to call his ministry Church on the Move because of the positive impact a good friend, pastor Willie George, had on his life. George started a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and called it Church on the Move, and Landis followed suit. The two ministries are not affiliated.

Landis says COTM is a "no labels" ministry. It is considered transdenominational because it transcends cultural, ethnic and denominational barriers--sort of a "many streams, one river" church. The uniqueness of the church draws people from different streams--charismatics, Pentecostals, evangelicals, Word of Faith adherents and purpose-driven ministries--as well as prophetic and seeker-sensitive worshipers.

The pastor says the concept is considered a genuine expression of God's nature.

"The church strives to somehow extract the pureness of God from all the streams, and allows them to flow and make one life-giving river," he explains.

One goal of the ministry is to build what reflects the kingdom of God. That is why COTM places major emphases on the value of people from different backgrounds and all walks of life.

Accessible to residents in Lehigh Valley, the church is positioned between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Once people walk through the doors of the sanctuary, they receive teaching that is both practical and relevant.

During Sunday worship services, attendees hear challenging messages such as the pastor's recent series titled, Life Was Never Meant to Be Boring--Live It on the Edge. Strategically planned, all the services are designed both to feed believers and to attract nonbelievers.

In June 1990, COTM opened its doors with great expectations of what God would do in the city. And members say "something great" is what God did. Since that first Sunday in June, the ministry has catapulted to a 1,500-person membership and has experienced a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit evident by changed hearts and lives.

It is not uncommon for affluent people, single moms and recovering drug addicts to share pews together. Neither is it unusual to see well-known speakers such as Cathy Lechner, Latin evangelist Carlos Annacondia or Bernice King--daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.--ministering at COTM.

Why? Because the church knows that people from all walks of life will seek out a church that doesn't focus on the color of their skin or the size of their income. They know that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords at COTM.

Says longtime member Tanya: "COTM is sensitive to people. I like it because you don't have to give up your culture. We celebrate diversity."

As the minister of music and the pastor's wife, Maribel Landis is one of three worship leaders at the church and oftentimes leads worship in Spanish and interprets the songs. But ministering to spiritual needs is not the only thing COTM does. The community is grateful to COTM for sacrificing buildings owned by the ministry so low-income children can receive a quality Christian education at The Kings Way Academy. The academy is designed to offer children the best possible educational experience while instilling a strong biblical foundation.

The church staff knows that sacrifices will be made for the benefit of ministry, and Maribel says she is willing to make those sacrifices for God. She gave up a promising career as a bilingual oncologist nurse educator and a comfortable salary to help her husband in ministry.

Her own personal experience with a child who has special needs has made her extra sensitive to the needs of others. And she knows the best way to relate to them.

"It is important to be who I am," she says. "I like to be real. I am the same person at church as I am at home."

THE IMPACT OF AUTHENTICITY

It is such authenticity that drew Ruth Alpha to the church in 1991. Although Alpha's mother was already attending COTM when she decided to attend, she says it was the realness and genuine love that the Landises showed to hurting people that caused her to stay.

Alpha, 48, was living in the pain of a troubled past and needed a way of escape. Her problems began as early as the 1970s. When she was 16 years old, Alpha, who is white, had an interracial baby with an African American man. With heroin as her drug of choice, she was arrested and convicted for the possession of a narcotic substance and sentenced to 3-1/2 to 5 years, though she only served 1-1/2 years.

"Ruthie," as she is affectionately called at the church, says the birth of her interracial baby is one factor that led to her drug addiction.

"I was wounded from the way I was treated because of my baby," she says. "I felt rejected and judged by society." Her newborn son was immediately taken from her care and placed in a foster home. Alpha spent the next year in a juvenile home.

Today, Alpha is the director of Women of Destiny, the women's ministry at COTM. The ministry focuses on five major areas that meet the needs of the spirit, soul and body.

Her interracial son, James, is now married. He and his wife, Angie, have three children: Michael, Shiann and Zion David.

"I am free from the pain of my past," Alpha declares. "The ministry at Church on the Move has impacted my life in many ways."

Carmen Renden would say the same thing. She recalls the time when, as a 19-year-old college student who did not know Christ, she decided to abort the child she had conceived out of wedlock. But there was one problem with Renden's decision: Her boyfriend did not want her to abort their child. As Renden was nearing the end of the eighth week of her pregnancy, her unborn baby now had a beating heart, arms and legs, and fingers and toes.

While contemplating abortion, Renden's boyfriend, Jesús, who is now her husband, was not a Christian. But "G," as he is known among church friends and family members, grew up in a Christian home and could not imagine doing it.

"After a lot of heartfelt conviction, I asked Christ to come into my heart. Since that time, I've had no regrets," he says.

After his conversion, Jesús, now 30, encouraged Renden to attend a Friday night revival service at the local YMCA. The young preacher delivering the message was Randy Landis.

Although she had made up her mind to carry out her plans to end her pregnancy, Renden accepted her boyfriend's invitation. "I did not grow up in a Christian home," she says. "I sat in my seat, and my hands and feet felt like they were tied by the enemy."

But as Maribel Landis prayed the sinner's prayer with Renden, the young woman literally felt the spiritual shackles that felt like weights fall from her body. With uplifted hands and tears streaming down her face, Renden told God: "Lord, I'm giving you two weeks. If You will change my life, I will be Yours forever."

Today, 11 years later, the Rendens enjoy the Spirit-led life at COTM with Briani--the child they had once considered aborting. The couple also has three other children: Krielle, Cheyanne and Marlynn.

Briani says she would someday like to be a child evangelist. She started pursuing her goal earlier this year when she led a classmate to Christ in the bathroom of her elementary school. Says Briani: "I asked God for a little space to tell a friend about Jesus Christ."

The youngster also prayed a prayer of healing for a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. "The friend is recovering nicely," says her dad.

FACING THE CHALLENGES

Although Randy Landis graduated from Rhema Bible Training Institute in Tulsa and was employed by Kenneth Hagin Ministries for a short time, it was his travels as an itinerate minister that strengthened his teaching skills. During his years of travel, he was exposed to more than 200 churches.

Landis has experienced firsthand the challenges of building a ministry. And in one respect, his success is ironic: He recalls saying he would never pastor a church. But in May 1989 in Hickory, North Carolina, he says the Lord impressed upon his heart to start a church.

The pastor believes quality leadership is critical. "The church today is literally crying out for authentic leadership," he says. "They want their leaders to be real. They want to know that leaders have the same struggles and issues as they have." It is that type of conviction that keeps people coming to the church.

Mayor William Heydt of Allentown is a frequent attendee. "Church on the Move has had a tremendous impact on the city," he told Ministries Today.

"The church is growing dramatically, and it encompasses all ethnic groups. What amazes me are the young people. They are in church because they want to be there and not because their parents force them to come."

Adopting a unique approach to ministry, COTM operates from a team concept. With nine pastors on staff, each pastor is assigned the oversight of a group of ministries, and each ministry has a department leader. Landis meets with the pastoral team to review the effectiveness and strategy of each department.

"We are a purpose-driven church. We try to keep everything in the context of our mission and vision statements," he says. "Most of the ministries at the church have a clear and defined mission and vision statement printed in brochure-form for members and visitors to view."

Everyone at COTM is needed to support the ministry for the cause of Christ--and young people are no exception. "The media may have labeled our youth 'Generation X', but we are a generation with a purpose," says associate pastor Bill Cummings.

Highvoltage Youth Ministry affords students the opportunity to express themselves through Christian activities and group meetings. Activities include a youth band, a drama team, street witnessing and many others. The purpose of the ministry is to change trends in the community.

The Landises are committed to racial unity in the church, but old strongholds die hard. Although residents of Allentown do pride themselves on ethnic diversity, the city is one of only a few cities in the United States that do not recognize Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday.

"That's obviously been a war," Mayor William Heydt said during a telephone interview. "I continually talk with the local NAACP and explain that my people who work with the city have slated certain holidays as a personal day; they want the flexibility of work, and the same thing applies to Dr. King's day."

According to COTM's "core values" statement, racial harmony begins with a respect for all of God's people. So, with or without recognition of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Randy and Maribel Landis embrace the fundamental principles of what King stood for.

A church that is on the move for God, COTM does not focus on the color of someone's skin. What matters the most, they believe, is the people's willingness to look beyond race, denomination, gender and cultural barriers to see a God who cares about one race: the human race. *

Vanessa Lowe Robinson is a free-lance writer. She lives in Queens, New York.


Pastor Profile: Randy and Maribel Landis

Age: Randy, 41; Maribel, 39

Family: Randy and Maribel have been married for 15 years, and they have two children, Natalie, 12; and Olivia, 10. Randy has two sons from a previous marriage, Randy Jr., 20; and Isaiah, 19.

Education: Randy attended Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas for one year and then transferred to Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he received a diploma and his ordination.

Church Background: Raised in a Christian home, Randy accepted Christ at age 19 and six months later accepted the call to ministry. After completing his seminary education, he worked briefly with Kenneth Hagin Ministries. The experience he gained during his travels as an itinerant minister was needed during his service at his home church, Grace Fellowship, in Tulsa. In obedience to the Lord, Landis stopped traveling and returned home to Allentown to plant Church on the Move.

About Church on the Move: Slightly more than five years ago, Church on the Move purchased the former United Weslyan College for $765,000, which was valued at $2.4 million. Located on eight acres of prime property, the church is situated in a garden-like setting. With a huge sanctuary, education facility, an administration building and a resource building, residents see the ministry as both a church and a community center.

Pastors and Family: "As a pastor or minister, you must learn to prioritize your life," Randy Landis says. "If you work in ministry, you must make sure you're doing the important things that bring you a return. There is no return like your children."

Landis enjoys spending time with his family and playing basketball with his daughter, Natalie. The entire family constantly showers daughter Olivia, who has Down's syndrome, with love and attention. Randy has two young-adult sons from a previous marriage, with whom he spends time and dispenses fatherly advice.

"I unwind by working out in the gym with my wife, and I enjoy playing golf," Landis says. He says Maribel is his best friend and greatest support. He describes his wife as a "very strong gracious leader," not only to the church's women's department, but to the community as well.

Mentoring: Landis says mentoring is very important in the church today. While mentoring, he focuses, among other issues, on two areas: "I want them to walk life with me. I want them to see how I relate to my wife, how I relate to my kids. I really allow them to 'do life' with me. Then I focus on the ministry aspect," he explains. "We work on character issues and developing a Christlikeness."

The late John Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston impacted both Randy and Maribel. It was Osteen's well-known heart for people that continues to reverberate with the Landises.

The Future of COTM: Landis says the future is ever present in his mind. Aside from cultivating the current church and the relationship it has with the community, he often considers the possibility of satellite churches in various locations across the country. Autonomous in nature, each church would have the freedom to meet the specific needs of their community.

Landis believes his desires are simply prophetic words coming to fruition. He says that he received a prophetic word on May 3, 1998, from Cathy Lechner: "God is going to give you prime property at the gate of the city with lots and lots of land."

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