Into the streets: Reaching a neglected community

Richard Gammill
Thursday, December 22, 2016

ImageA white van pulled into a motel parking lot near downtown Ashland, Kentucky. The doors opened and six people got out and looked around at 100 doors facing the courtyard. They separated into pairs and began knocking on doors.

“Hi, we are from Intersection Church a few blocks away. We are here to meet you and see if there is any way we might be of help to you.”

At one door, Robert looked at his callers with amazement. “I can’t believe this. Last night my girlfriend and I prayed that God would send us someone to help us get back to Him. Just now, we were sitting on my bed praying again—and here you are.”

One of the men at his door said, “Wow. A few minutes ago we asked God to lead us to someone who needs His help.”

Robert sat on his bed as his two visitors found chairs. “How can we help?” they asked. “Tell us what’s going on.”

Robert told his story of despair. “I’ve been hitting the bottle pretty hard ...”

ImageAfter a half hour of conversation, the visitors asked, “Robert, may we pray with you?”

“Absolutely.”

After they prayed together, the men said, “We’ll be back next Wednesday evening. May we see you then?”

“I’ll be right here.”

Every Wednesday through the weeks of spring and summer, Robert heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and how He changes lives. He began attending the Sunday worship services at Intersection, where he shared his testimony.

He had been drinking heavily and questioned whether he could ever find peace with God. That Wednesday evening conversation changed everything. He turned his life over to God and has not had a drink since. God lifted him out of the mess he was in. “God is looking out for me. He forgave my sins and helps me with what I need. He blesses me every day.”

Robert reunited with his family; he shared his testimony with his mother and now she and his sister attend church. He says, “Things don’t bother me the way they used to. I tell everyone who will listen, ‘Look at what God has done for me!’

“Intersection Church is amazing, the way they help people like me.”

His pastor is Kevin Campbell, a native of Ashland and a graduate of Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs and Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Kevin pastored in Florida and West Virginia before he returned to Ashland and pastored Plaza Church of the Nazarene for nine years. Then God led him in a new direction.

ImageAshland is a river town of 21,000 people in the heart of Appalachia that has not recovered from the economic downturn. Jobs vanished when industries left the area, steel production slumped and coal mining almost shut down. Thousands of workers with good paying jobs with benefits are now either unemployed or underemployed. Families and the communities of the Tri-State Area (Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia) have slipped into a state of melancholy. Twenty-seven percent of the local population receives some form of public assistance. Since the Area is comprised of the tips of three states, the efforts of the social agencies are not coordinated, resulting in much transiency. When benefits in one place are exhausted, a family or individual moves a few miles and applies for new benefits.

Pastor Campbell’s heart ached with the needs he encountered in his struggling community. He joined his traditional ministry with Church without Walls, sponsored by a consortium of local churches. He thought of Jesus’ story of the shepherd leaving 99 secure sheep to look for the one that was lost. The plight of “lost sheep” outside the reach of traditional ministries stirred his heart. Plaza Church could get a new pastor; he would go to the lost ones without a pastor.

Ashland is not a metropolitan area. Nazarene ministry in this small region has long been hampered by its location on the edge of three different church districts. Campbell would have to go where the people are, across borders and jurisdictions. He resigned from Plaza Church and took a full-time job as manager of Moe’s Southwest Grill. His wife Robyn, a schoolteacher, and his two adult children, Dylan and Chelsea, supported his decision.

ImageIntersection Church began in August 2015 with a Hope Grant from the Eastern Kentucky District and the General Church of the Nazarene, followed by a smaller grant from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. Sunday morning services began in a meeting room of Pendleton Art Gallery in downtown Ashland, decorated to represent an urban street scene. Wednesday outreach activities went to the streets on both sides of the Ohio River, and covered a radius of thirty miles in all three states.

A few people who met Pastor Campbell on Wednesday evenings joined him for Sunday services in the art gallery. Over time they formed a core group of forty people. Some who had been alienated from church found a new relationship with Jesus Christ. They came not just to worship, but also to participate in ministry. This group forms into small ministry teams that are dispatched to the streets on Wednesdays. Resources donated from the community help in the outreach. They preach in parks, visit homeless camps, and knock on motel doors, They return to the same locations each week.

Christian music groups join them periodically to perform outdoor concerts. Sometimes the volunteers go out with one hundred sack lunches, sometimes with warm winter coats or scarves, sometimes with laundry soap, always with words of hope and encouragement. On a cold night, they will invite people to Tim Horton’s for hot coffee. They minister to 300 people in an average week and pray with many who respond to their message.

ImageGayla wrote this email to Pastor Campbell: “I would like to thank ya'll for the water and goodie bags for my children this past Wednesday as we was placed out of our home for awhile. Also thank you for the prayers.”

The Intersection helps connect this family and people in similar situations with those who can help them find homes, jobs, and other forms of help. 

"I believe in what Kevin is doing at 'The Intersection.' He is a fine example of 'Jesus with skin on' and reflects the roots of the Church of the Nazarene in going to the streets to reach the lost for Christ," said Doug Wyatt, superintendent of the Eastern Kentucky District. "My wife, Joni and I have attended worship at 'The Intersection' and were moved by the life transformation testimonies shared. God is definitely moving in a great way through this ministry."

In August 2016, Intersection Church moved into a downtown church building left behind by a congregation that relocated to a new facility. This gave the fledgling ministry a sense of permanence as well as a facility they can use during the week.

The move did not change the nature of the ministry. The music and the attire fit the culture, not the traditional architecture. Campbell says, “We establish relationships as we listen to the people we meet on the streets. We aren’t there to do charity; that’s what makes us feel good. It’s all about compassion, showing the love of Jesus to people in need of hope.

"Actually, every person out there is now homeless or has been. Jesus said (in John 14:23), ‘we will come and make our home with them.’ We are helping people find their way home.”