National Public Radio calls them driveway moments. You’re driving to your destination listening to public radio and you hear something so compelling, you sit in your car in the driveway until the story is over. This happened to me about a week ago. I was on my way to the store when I caught an interview on KOSU with reporter Michael Cross and founding editor of the Oklahoma Observer, Frosty Troy.
Troy, a recipient of the Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award, was talking about newly elected Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele, who is also a Methodist minister from Shawnee Oklahoma. Steele has an impressive record for helping Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, children and the elderly. Troy spoke quite highly of him and his work to provide help to seniors struggling to pay for prescription drugs.
Troy went on to quote the latest rash of grim statistics regarding Oklahoma. Before I reveal them, please note that I try to stay positive on this blog in regard to my home state. I recently knocked myself out for an article published on Technorati highlighting a dozen or so of the state’s fantastic accomplishments over the past year. Many of these, however, focus on Oklahoma City, which out-ranks numerous cities nationwide for a variety of things. We’re number 1 for small business. We’re the most recession proof city in the nation. As conservative of a state as this is, we still rank #4 for the best places for artists and designers. I’m really proud of all that. But, the story is different for the state as a whole.
Alas, we are ranked #1 in the nation for CHILD POVERTY. Last year, there were more than 13,000 confirmed cases of child neglect in Oklahoma. We rank #7 in the nation for CHILD DEATH. I’m a little superstitious. I hate repeating negative stories and statistics. But, good grief! Our children are dying at a rate faster than they are in 43 other states.
Where are Oklahoma’s Pulpits?
Then Troy said something that has been bothering me for a very long time. He asked, “Where are the pulpits?” He said our state was full of churches, but the pulpits were silent. He said we must start addressing social needs, but churches hadn’t because Oklahoma is a fundamentalist state and the pulpit was afraid of hurting feelings.
Afraid of hurting feelings? You’ve got to be kidding me. Are pastors in Oklahoma worried about being kicked to the curb if they repeat the teachings of Jesus? Are members becoming investors relegating clergy to CEO Status?
Two weeks ago, my home church celebrated its centennial anniversary. In this day and age, most churches, if they’re lucky, only last about 40 years. Reaching the 100-year milestone is a big deal.
700 Unwed Mothers
Part of the celebration included a tribute to five founding members of the church including two who were women, Johnny Jernigan and Mattie Mallory. Mallory began an orphanage for children in Bethany, Oklahoma, and Jernigan began a home there for unwed mothers. This was during the 1909-1916 timeframe. During these early years of Oklahoma statehood, the Church of the Nazarene in Bethany helped more than 700 unwed mothers through their pregnancies. This makes me so proud I could bust a seam.
I wanted to weep at the sight of an old picture of Jernigan with a half a dozen or more little babies flashed on the big screen. One hundred years ago, most people would have regarded those precious babies as little more than bastards. To the people who founded my church they were the cause of Christ.
The Hell Holes and the Yards of Hell
On centennial Sunday, we were reminded that we are missional and called to go into the dangerous places in our world. My father was a Nazarene minister and he went into such places, preaching to small gatherings of wayward sailors out to sea and in the “lowest down” of L.A. He proclaimed a message of hope to drunkards and homeless men, and he took me and my sisters and my brother and our mother with him. He could have taken us to Disneyland, and I suppose on some level we wish he had. Yet, I know all five of us will agree that there was something about Peniel Mission, a Nazarene ministry in downtown L.A., that was even more exhilarating than the Matterhorn in Anaheim.
During the celebration, we were reminded that we were called to minister in the hell holes of our world. We were challenged not to live cloistered lives in fear simply awaiting for Christ to return. Our senior pastor shared this quote by CT Studd (from the pulpit, mind you): “Some wish to live among the sounds of chapel bells, I wish to run a rescue mission within yards of hell.”
More than 10 years ago, I was influenced by a book written by Jim Cymbala called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. One of the most memorable parts of the book for me was when Cymbala described visiting heroin addicts in the former salt mines of New York City, and inviting them to Brooklyn Tabernacle. Many such people in the salt mines and other byways of New York City responded to such invitations. They heard the words of Jesus and their lives were transformed through hope. Some received supernatural help and blessings.