"If someone had said to us 17 years ago you will be doing all of these things we would have said no we can't do that. But it happened gradually and I think in God's timing and here we are," says St. Paul Children's Foundation Founder Patsy Lewis.
St. Paul Methodist Church first opened its doors almost a century ago. The neighborhood in East Tyler has changed a lot over the years. But it wasn't until a chance encounter with a neighborhood boy that the members here realized just how much it had changed.
"He asked can anyone could come to church here?" recalls Patsy Lewis. "And she said, 'Of course, come on.' And he said, 'Oh, my sister said only rich white ladies could come to this church'. Well it is a changing neighborhood and we had no idea that the people around us felt that way about our church."
Unlike a lot of other churches in similar situations, the congregation here decided to reach out instead of leave. They started with a program called Wonderful Wednesday... when they invited the neighborhood children to come to the church after school.
"The first day 53 kids came, they were terrified," said Patsy. "Two people and 53 kids that spoke Spanish."
A few years later the church would begin food pantry and clothes closet... working out of these two small houses across the street. After that a medical clinic was opened.
This weekend, 17 years after that first Wonderful Wednesday, St. Paul is dedicating a new 6400 square foot building. It will house a new pantry, clothes closet and medical clinic. From 2005 to 2006 this ministry has grown from serving the needs of 9,600 people to more than 20,000. The new building is actually larger than the church itself that averages around 50 or 60 people every Sunday.
But still today the heart of St. Paul is Wonderful Wednesday. More than 100 kids come here after school once a week... but before the kids arrive the teachers gather to pray.
"We wouldn't think of going into those classrooms without having prayer first," said Patsy. "And the children have told us of needs in their homes and with their parents and their families that have prayer needs. We have a list and keep that going and we pray for them."
The St. Paul Children's Foundation was established ten years ago to help fund this ministry.
Today other churches like Marvin and Pollard Methodist help provide the 150 volunteers needed each week. Kay Sheppard heard about the program from a friend. And while she attends another church she marvels at that the ministry of St. Paul
"I think if you get into the environment, if you are in the environment, you see the need. And it touches your heart so you just want to work. And I think if they weren't right here in the middle of this community you wouldn't have a feel for how desperate they need help," says Kay. "They are so hungry for this. It will just touch your heart. Unbelievable. It will touch your heart. Sometimes they make me cry. The prayers they pray and some of them so care about others. It's more prayers for their family or their friends, you know its not selfish prayers. And think this is a wonderful thing. I am so in love with this.
"If you look at the numbers of the people in this church we are very small, but if you look at the amount of work that is done and the ministry it is just absolutely incredible. It surprises so many people from much larger churches," says teacher and church member Ann Starnes.
In an era where larger, more convenient churches are popular... this small congregation still believes it is here in this changing neighborhood God has called them to minister. And regardless of their small size, they believe through the power of prayer they can continue to serve thousands while building a bridge between two very different cultures.
Sunday, May 19 2013 11:51 PM EDT2013-05-20 03:51:29 GMT
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