Reach Into the Darkness

The challenge may be daunting, but it cannot be avoided. The church must rise up to alter the course of our communities. Here are some practical and creative ways to get started.
One night as my husband and I were preparing for bed, the telephone rang. The voice at the other end was hysterical. "They shot Toby!" It was my best friend's mother telling me her grandson had been shot. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I asked her to repeat it, but the answer was the same. "They shot Toby! He's dead! A drug dealer shot him!"

My knees weakened as I fell onto the bed next to my husband. I dropped the phone as I repeated to him the tragic news. Lorraine's son Toby had been shot and killed. I picked up the phone again and assured Lorraine's mother that I was on the way.

I had no idea that a small drug war was raging in our community, and now someone we knew personally had become a casualty of that conflict. Arriving at the home, I could see the bullet holes in the car in which Toby had been killed. I was shocked and grieved at this senseless act aimed at Toby's brother, the result of a drug deal gone bad.

Toby was an innocent and uninvolved victim. He had been an honor student on his way to a bright future at Ohio State University to play football. He was cut down in a horrible fashion in the prime of his life.

Toby's grandmother asked me to go to Lorraine's place of employment, where she was working third shift as a private duty nurse, and tell her what had happened. The ride to deliver this appalling news was a 10-mile trip of tears.

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As Lorraine opened the door and saw my face, she knew something was terribly wrong. I embraced her and whispered in her ear that Toby had been shot and killed. As the words sank in, she collapsed in my arms and began to weep uncontrollably.

When the crying had finally subsided, I sent her home to comfort her grieving children. Because I also was a private duty nurse, I finished her shift for her.

When I returned home the next morning, I found my husband on his knees praying. As he was getting up, he told me that he had asked the Lord, "Where is the church?" The Lord responded with a swift and penetrating answer: "You are the church." Our lives and our church, Revival Center Ministries International in Dayton, Ohio, were forever changed by that one answer.

Since that day, my late husband and I dedicated ourselves to meeting the needs of our community. An African proverb asserts that it takes a village to raise a child. But through the years we've watched our "village" deteriorate. Our society is no longer prepared to raise a child because it still must be raised.

I believe it's the church's responsibility to "raise" the village. We must rise up to alter the course of our communities. It's a daunting task, I know, but our church's efforts to develop after-school, literacy, truancy prevention and job training programs are proof that it is possible.

We must begin to walk out our faith and believe that we can make a difference in turning the village around. But first, we must learn how to listen.


There is a sound of weeping in the village. Mothers mourn for their children lost to drugs and violence. Young girls cry out from abortion clinics, thinking they have no other choice. Children render heartrending screams from schools where students have lost their lives.

Hopeless cries rise from our nation's courtrooms, where guilty verdicts strip freedom from young men and women. Despondent pleas rise from nursing homes housing our discarded elderly. Silent tears line the weary faces of grandparents rearing their children's children because the parents are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

My husband and I first heard the cries in 1989. We realized that many inner-city children went without meals on the weekends because they weren't in school to receive the government-funded breakfasts and lunches. The children were anxious to go to school on Mondays just so they could fill their empty bellies.

We began driving our bus into the housing projects on the weekends, knocking on doors and inviting children to the church to participate in our Love School. Church volunteers gave them food for both the body and spirit.

After only a few Saturdays had passed, a teacher stopped me in the hallway, confessing that she was having a difficult time teaching Bible lessons to the children because many of them could not read. After visiting the classrooms, I found that the teacher's description was accurate. I decided that something must be done, so I called all the teachers together, collected the Bibles and sent them to buy reading materials. Almost by accident we started a literacy program, which later earned awards at the state and national levels.

Our success with the children in the Love School convinced us that we could do more. I called the superintendent of schools, the chief of police and the mayor's office and asked to meet with them. We wanted to provide an alternative for students from ages 6 to 16 who had been suspended from school. Our desire was to create a structured environment for these students in order to keep them off the streets and supervise their schoolwork.

As we sat around the conference table, I could almost see them rolling their eyes as if to say, "Here's another church that wants to do something but that will never follow through." But we did what we promised and more.

When we started the program, we had no financial support. But as various groups became aware of our efforts, we began getting assistance. The United Way gave us a $37,000 grant, and we received many donations in the form of cash and computers.

Our programs now serve most of the schools in Dayton, Ohio, and many of the schools in Montgomery County, Ohio. We also have a work-study suspension program in which students receive tutoring and counseling. To help them develop a strong work ethic, we help them get involved in various community services.

We responded to the cry with a deliberate effort to offer hope. Let's take a closer look at a few areas where I believe the church can bring the healing love of Jesus and stop the weeping in the village.

1. Schools. In 1996 there were more than 255,000 acts of violence on school property, including some horrible, devastating murders. The religious folks of the church react to such conditions by shaking their heads and saying, "If only they had not taken God and prayer out of the schools." This is a feeble response to a grave situation.

The fact is, it is impossible to take either prayer or God out of the schools. We can pray anywhere and anytime we choose. No one can regulate a prayer offered up to God from the heart of one of His kids. Do you think God abides by our ridiculous restrictions?

We must pray for students, teachers, administrators, school board members and all who are involved in our educational systems. Why not go to the principals of your local schools and offer your support in whatever way they suggest? Have you considered developing your own after-school, drug-prevention and literacy programs?

The church has the ability to provide direction and offer hope for these youth who are disoriented and depressed. We must begin to pay attention.

2. Abortion clinics. Local churches have organized pro-life marches all over the country, but the number of abortions has not been reduced, and the laws continue to support the right to kill the unborn. Is there no alternative?

Anyone can carry a sign, but who's willing to demonstrate Christ's compassion to these young women? Does your church offer sex education? Do you support parents' abilities to discuss these issues with their kids? Or do you believe talking about sex is taboo?

We need to begin to educate youth about sex rather than leaving it up to the public schools, whose solution is to hand out condoms. Churches should have adoption committees and classes about foster care parenting. We can become the extended family for the village. We can help teen-age mothers develop parenting skills and acquire job training.

It is not enough for us to be on the right side of the cause for life. The demonstration of the love of Jesus will have lasting and practical value in people's lives. We need to put down the signs and pick up the babies.

3. Prisons. The populations of prisons are growing at an alarming rate. It's obvious the government does not have the answer. They are discovering that all their attempts at rehabilitation have failed. But because these prisons are filled to capacity, they continue to spend millions of dollars to build new ones. A wiser investment would be to build better schools and safer communities.

We must get involved with the families of those in prison and empower them to break the cycle of misery. Children with parents in prison are more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. The church must claim these children before the legal system does. Our love for Christ must find a practical demonstration to meet the needs surrounding us. We cannot think there is nothing we can do.

The church also must supply a meaningful support for those exiting prison systems and looking for a new start. We can provide a mentoring and training system that will help them change destructive behavior patterns. Many who are "saved" in prison return to a life of crime because they have no support system. The church has the anointing to proclaim freedom to these men and women. Let's do it.

Ironically, the loudest cries of all are coming from the church. We cry out for more attention to all our bumps and hurts and make idols out of our pain. We need to be reminded that Jesus never promised us a pain-free life. But we can choose to allow our personal pain to become a pathway that releases healing in others.

After a major stroke in 1993, I was told I would never walk again. The Lord took me to 1 Samuel 30 and gave me a message called "Resting Your Tears." In this passage David and his men found that the enemy had invaded Ziklag and had taken their wives and children captive. David and his men wept until they ran out of tears.

Then David inquired of God. He was told that if he would pursue his enemies, he would recover all. David had to stop grieving and take action. All the tears in the world weren't going to release his family from the hand of the enemy. Until we stop our own crying, we cannot go after those in our village who have been captured by the enemy.


Pastors who hear the cries in their communities know it takes more than a burden and a vision to rebuild the ruined places. We can't fry enough chickens, bake enough cakes or sell enough used clothing to do the work God has commissioned us to do. We must find creative ways to finance the vision, and that includes learning how to apply for grants (see related story on page 38).

I've discovered that funding a successful project involves knowing your ABCs: accountability, budgeting and character.

1. Accountability. Accountability simply means that we do what we say we are going to do. If you send me to the store with money to buy a loaf of bread, then I need to return with a loaf of bread, a receipt and your change. Any discrepancies must be justified.

In order to hold yourself accountable, you need a vision. You must know your goal and how you will accomplish it.

To determine what your congregation should be involved in, ask yourself, "What do I see?" Jesus knew where to minister because He looked to see where His Father was working (see John 5:19). Jesus didn't work to keep Himself busy or to give His ministry a positive image. We, too, must look to see where God is working and, at His invitation, join Him.

The next key part of accountability is integrity, which is the integration of what we say into what we do. Each year, the government gives more money to the Catholic Church than to any other charitable organization because the church faithfully does what they say they will do. They have integrity. The Spirit-filled church must do the same. We must prove ourselves worthy of funding by faithfully carrying out what we promise to do.

Another part of accountability is organization. It is imperative that our ministries always be "audit ready." If the government invests taxpayers' money in our vision, we must be able to prove that we are effectively and accurately handling these public funds.

2. Budgeting. All the resources we need to fund our God-given projects are available to us both inside and outside the church. These resources include the government, charitable trusts, large corporations and a variety of other sources.

An important first step is to establish a chief financial officer, who will match needs with funding. If you are serious about raising the village, this position could be full time.

There are millions of dollars at the disposal of "faith-based organizations" to rebuild communities, and much of it goes unclaimed simply because the church does not know where to find it. We have received phone calls saying: "We are about to send back $40,000 nobody has applied for. Do you want it?" You don't have to ask me twice.

But in order to tap into that funding, we must learn how to communicate using the same terminology employed by the funding sources. The current buzzword is "family." At Project Impact, our church's 501(c)3, we deal with a variety of family problems as we teach on the whole range of "family values."

So when we are handed a grant form, we talk in terms of the "family," not Bible studies. It is not necessary to tell a funding source that Jesus is the basis for all our teaching. They already know that we are a faith-based organization. Funding sources are interested in the product, not necessarily the process.

Pastors should exchange The Wall Street Journal for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a monthly publication that lists millions of available dollars. There are more than enough resources to go around.

But before you go looking for external funding sources, don't forget about the "jewels in the pews," or the church's human resources. In addition to empowering people financially by teaching the principles of tithing and giving, we must discover the skills and abilities among our members.

What skills do you have lying around your house that could be incorporated into the purposes of God? Are there people with communication and legal skills who can write grant proposals? Are there attorneys who can offer legal counsel? Are there good listeners who can form the base for a counseling ministry? Many of our secular skills can be used for kingdom purposes. We must help all believers become "fishers of men."

3. Character. Perhaps the most important facet of our fund raising is character. Don't compromise conviction for cash. Don't try to get more money than you need. We must be responsible and demonstrate Christian character in everything we do.

Don't disguise the fact that you are Christian. It will be an open invitation for secular officials to come observe what you are doing. We have had judges, commissioners and other civil authorities, as well as school principals, come to Project Impact meetings and visit our church services. They have attended our graduations and sat under the influence of our prayer.

They know that we pray with the children. They are aware that we minister in our various programs without forcing religion on them. We don't have to present Bible lessons with every job-training seminar. We will "re-present" Him by our consistent character and compassionate communications.

As you move forward in reaching your community, remember the ABCs: accountability, budgeting and character. Jesus has given us all that we need. Let's work together to build His kingdom. It takes a church to raise a village.

Community Outreach Checklist

An inventory of what is needed to strengthen your presence in the community, apply for grants and put together a proposal for funding

Moving your ministry outside the walls of the church and into the community requires a new way of thinking. This includes the development of 501( c )3 organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) complete with a board of directors, assembling qualified staff and writing grant proposals. Below are lists of pertinent information that may make the learning curve easier to navigate.


These tips are for churches that want to develop a stronger presence in their communities.

1. Write down the vision/mission statement. Set forth short-term and long-term goals.
2. Ensure that staff and volunteers are committed and have a heart for the ministry.
3. Prepare a survey of your congregation's skills and abilities. Find out what gifts are in the house.
4. Interact with your community in three areas: needs, problems and leadership.
5. Make yourselves visible in the community. Attend community meetings, prepare newsletters and host events for special days.
6. Make your organization an independent corporation, giving it a separate 501(c) 3 designation.
7. If possible, create a separate freestanding facility for the 501( c )3. People tend to come to an agency facility vs. a church building.
8. Contact the local United Way and enroll your organization for Donor Option opportunities. This allows donors to determine how their money is spent. The donor fills out a card at work consenting to a payroll deduction, then 100 percent of the contribution is given to the organization of his or her choice.
9. Investigate all the funding opportunities in your community, including local municipalities, housing authorities and in-kind opportunities.
10. Exercise faith, faith and more faith for every area.


Depending on the Funding Source Application Guidelines, the following information will be requested. Take the time to assemble the following information, place in sets and file. Only send what is requested.

1. 501(c) 3 letter from the IRS
2. List of the board of directors, including names, addresses and phone numbers
3. Copy of most recent audit
4. List of advisory council members
5. Map of target area
6. Demographics of target population
7. Résumés and job descriptions of all current and proposed staff
8. Sample budgets
9. Sample budget narrative
10. Letter requesting letters of support and a list of requestees
11. History of organization: programs, awards, positive information
12. Minutes of board meetings and attendance numbers
13. Future funding statement
14. Evaluation statement.


A complete proposal should include the following information in the order stated. Applicants should submit an original and three copies of their completed proposal.

1. Proposal cover sheet. All items must be completed.
2. Concise history of the organization, with an overview of current programs and activities
3. Copy of the IRS letter stating the organization is a tax-exempt public charity
4. Statement from the organization's board authorizing the request and agreeing to carry out the project if funded
5. Description of the problem or need to be met by the proposed project
6. Detailed description of the project, including goals (strategies), measurable objectives and timetable
7. Names and qualifications of persons responsible for carrying out the program
8. Detailed project budget and budget narrative, including income sources and expenditures; a list of other requests for funding, including those pending or approved
9. Evidence of financial condition, which can be supplied by a letter from a certified public accountant or a copy of the last audit
10. Plan for continuing the project when foundation funding ends
11. Plan for evaluating the project
12. Letters recommending the project and other relevant supporting material, such as reports, brochures or news articles. People affected by the problem/clients and clients' families.

Marva Mitchell is pastor and co-founder of Revival Center Ministries International (RCMI) in Dayton, Ohio. She holds leadership conferences in Kenya, Egypt, Mexico and India and teaches church agency development across the United States. RCMI offers practical, how-to manuals on church agency development, grant writing and other programs. Call (937) 263-5226 for more information.

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