November 7th, 2010
12:39 PM ET
Editor's Note: CNN's John Murgatroyd brings us this report from Atlanta, Georgia.
Atlanta’s Urban Foursquare Church is facing a problem that many of its parishioners already deal with: homelessness.
Pastor Mark Anthony Mitchell started the church in Lakewood, one of Atlanta’s poorest neighborhoods.
“We’re about the heartfelt needs of the poor and underclass,” he said.
Mitchell rents an abandoned church that is for sale. The congregation is months behind in the rent and facing eviction.
“Here we are living hand to mouth,” Mitchell said. “We give out more than we receive.”
Rosa Arnold runs the church’s four-day-a-week preschool for about 55 3- to 5-year-old neighborhood children free of charge. She said the children are not only taught how to read and write, but also to love one another.
“I just have to believe that this is not the end of what God wants me to do for these children,” Arnold said. I don’t believe he brought me here to just leave me and to leave these kids.”
The kids get a breakfast, lunch and snack, and some take home a little extra. “They ask for seconds and thirds because they don’t want to be hungry when they go home,” Arnold said.
The church also feeds about 100 of the neighborhood hungry twice a week. Willie Mosley Jr. started the church’s Miracle Made Mentor program, but also cooks breakfast. “It’s a small thing to cook my grandmother’s biscuits for the people,” Mosley said, “but knowing I put another element on those biscuits, it puts joy in someone else’s heart, which takes them out of their hopeless situation even for that moment.”
While the help is a welcomed gesture in Lakewood, Mitchell has loftier goals. The pastor wants to address the issue of criminal rehabilitation and fatherlessness. “How can they become a priest, a protector and a provider if they aren’t given a second chance to work and to take care of their kids and to take care of their wives?” he said.
Mitchell, at one time a drug dealer, graduated from Harvard with a master’s degree in theology in 1997.
“I can be anywhere with my degree,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been blessed to be a blessing. I’ve been given a second chance. And I have a real affinity for felons because I’m a felon.”
“I’m taking what I’ve learned on the streets and what I’ve learned in academia, and to me it has to be real, on the ground,” Mitchell said. “If it doesn’t work here in Lakewood - this gospel that we’ve talked about - if it’s not empowering people, then to me it’s not a gospel.”
And his message is resonating with his flock. Angela DesAustels started attending the Foursquare church when it opened its doors 2 years ago. DesAustels served time in jail for drug possession. “Without this ministry, I might still be on those streets, using and going to prison and doing what I was doing,” she said.
Mitchell compares the Lakewood neighborhood, and many like it across the United States, to countries receiving aid from American missionaries. “All we have to do is go across the train tracks, and we have Third World situations,” he said. “If we put the same effort here, it would free us up so much.”
So Mitchell continues to pray and hope for some way to save his church. “I want an urban-suburban connection,” he said. “I just want to live out Acts 2:32, those who have gave to those who have not so nobody lacks.”
“We have not come this far for God to leave us,” Mitchell said to some members of his congregation. “We’re not going out without a fight. Amen? Amen.”
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