Feature

Acts 29

Moving from touch to transformation

By Anonymous

I’ve never known Christians who put their faith into action like you do. You really care!”

Are you willing to take on this city project? We trust you.”

“Could you teach us? We’ve been in the city for years and have not had the responses you have seen in only a few months!”

These comments are typical of the inner-city response to Pastor John Meyers and the team leading Acts 29 Fellowship in Hamtramck, Michigan. But it didn’t start out that way.

Hamtramck is in the heart of inner-city Detroit. Its two square miles are home to about 40,000 people—African-Americans, Asian Indians, Bosnians, Yemenis and Polish Americans, to name a few. In Hamtramck, poverty, religious tension and educational difficulties are common, and Christian faith is often expressed in dysfunctional ways.

When Pastor Meyers arrived in Hamtramck, he began meeting with people for one-on-one Bible studies at a restaurant. The police threatened to arrest him for disturbing the peace. But now it is not uncommon for Pastor Meyers to be asked to serve on various city commissions. Why the change of heart? The answers are many.

Starting Up

In 2002, members of Fairlane Alliance Church (Dearborn, Mich.) began developing a presence in the inner city. And for several years, the Great Lakes District of the C&MA had planted inner-city churches. They too wanted to expand their ministry.

The senior pastor at Fairlane Alliance Church sensed the Lord’s leading to contact Meyers, his friend and college roommate, to develop an inner-city ministry. Meyers had just completed nearly 20 years as director of Akron Youthquake, and after much prayer, he and his family moved to Michigan in 2003.

Meyers became an assistant pastor at Fairlane Alliance and was supported by the church and district. He served in specific areas of ministry as he prayerfully sought God’s direction to start working in the city.

By the following year, the Lord led Meyers to Hamtramck, where the pastor began making contacts and recruiting leaders. By summer 2005 a core team was established, and basic service to the community had begun. As of this year Acts 29 includes eight staff members who raise their own support, an 18,000-square-foot facility that has undergone incredible renovation and a wide range of ministries.

Acts 29 Fellowship takes its name from the Book of Acts. In its 28 chapters, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ ministry through the Early Church after His ascension. The name Acts 29 suggests that the story has not ended: God, through His Spirit, is still at work.

Acts 29 is the continuing ministry of men and women who are serious about Jesus’ Commission to spread the good news into the community and beyond. Its mission statement is: To develop a Christ-centered, community-focused team of believers who are intent on establishing a biblically balanced ministry that addresses physical, social and spiritual needs in such a manner that a community is literally transformed for Christ.

Beyond Ordinary

Local congregations tend to respond to their communities in various ways. Some members ignore outsiders and form a “holy huddle” or a social club. Others reach out to touch their community but then retreat to doing their own thing with little long-term spiritual influence. Some do begin ministries that connect to the community. However, the uniqueness of Acts 29 is its commitment to move beyond connection to community transformation.

Jesus modeled His teaching with compassionate actions—washing feet, playing with children, rescuing the judged, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and correcting bad business practices, among other things.

Acts 29 workers model ministry after Jesus’ example. Four key components of the ministry are designed to accomplish its mission:

R.E.A.C.H., AXIS, Neighborhood Spiritual Connection and Christian Network.

R.E.A.C.H. (Reaching for Excellence and Community Hope) ministers to the Hamtramck schools and government housing projects. After-school programs, Wednesday night children’s ministries and youth group, play programs at the projects and summer camps are all in operation. More than 40 children attend the “Get with God” program on Wednesday nights, and 26 are enrolled in the after-school program. The children have improved academically, and their behavior has been so remarkable that the school system and Detroit Department of Human Services have asked Acts 29 to include as many as 900 additional children by next summer!

AXIS is a developing vocational program that has significantly helped more than 40 impoverished families. AXIS workers have helped elderly widows with major rebuilding projects and repairs. Since some of these women are lonely, the team not only fixes their houses but also spends time with them and prays for them. Stories of healing and compassion have gotten the attention of city leaders.

The Hamtramck City Council has offered Acts 29 AXIS workers 40 houses throughout the city for only $5,000 each so that volunteers can train community members in renovation. The houses will then be offered to needy families. The list of those seeking help grows daily, and many now consider Acts 29 their “church,” although weekly worship gatherings have not yet begun. AXIS workers are also developing wood-shop and floor-sanding programs to train the unemployed.

Neighborhood Spiritual Connection is an attempt to win Hamtramck’s neighborhoods to the Lord one block at a time. Every street will have one “shepherd”—someone who has come to Christ through Acts 29 or is part of the growing staff—committed to living in the heart of the city. At least four Bible studies are held within the neighborhood.

Beginning in February, Acts 29 Neighborhood Spiritual Connection opened a “free store” on Saturdays. The store (at the Acts 29 facility) consists of donated clothing of various styles and sizes. Customers are welcomed by a guide who not only helps them find what they need but also spends time getting to know the customers and shares Jesus as appropriate. Customers are also served a free lunch.

During the store’s first day, two people exchanged their lives for life in Christ—one had considered suicide just hours earlier. This man was distraught about taxes he thought he owed and brought his IRS forms to the store. After Meyers’ wife, Janell, correctly completed the forms, they realized the man would actually receive a refund! Acts 29 members are stepping in and helping in practical ways every day.

The store’s opening drew more than 400 people, including 110 families that Acts 29 members visit in their homes. The family members repeatedly exclaim that no one has ever cared for them like Acts 29. Families are being incorporated into neighborhood Bible studies whenever possible.

Acts 29 is about building the Kingdom, not guarding one’s territory. Christian Network is designed to connect the Christian community. This team is developing prayer gatherings for pastors and lay leaders in the area, as well as training many who serve in store-front settings. Mission churches have asked Acts 29 to “come in and take over their ministries” because of the workers’ love and impact on the community.

The Acts 29 building is used by various community groups. Bosnians who would never have entered a church come two days a week for folk dance classes. Polish seniors play bingo, and AA groups hold meetings. An independent men’s Bible study also uses the facility. Acts 29 has joined with a Southern Baptist church planter and his wife to offer English classes in the building. The Adult Education Department of Hamtramck specifically requested that these classes be led by the Acts 29 team. Acts 29 is connecting with these groups in ways that lead to salvation and discipleship. It isn’t about letting groups use the building; it’s about lovingly connecting with them in Christ’s Name.

A Plentiful Harvest

When people visit Acts 29, whether it’s a missions team from Michigan State University or a crew from The Alliance Video Magazine, the response is often electric. Many students have exclaimed, “I always knew the gospel was supposed to connect practically; I just haven’t seen it before. This is what I have been dreaming of.” Some with Alliance backgrounds have called the ministry of Acts 29 “Simpsonesque.” They stated that if we are to again become a flourishing movement, Acts 29–like ministries will be key.

Meyers is puzzled by all the attention. As a former parachurch leader, he sees himself simply bringing the church and the parachurch together. He believes that when people recognize a need, they should follow God wherever He leads. And that’s just what Meyers has done. The sacrifices are great, but they pale in significance to the joy of community transformation.

Through Acts 29 Fellowship, more than 50 people have accepted life in Christ. This year Acts 29 hopes to reach 400 people! This is not for the sake of having a number; it reflects what the team senses might happen as all legs of the ministry are faithful to the mission. If it does happen, every one of those 400 will be visited in their homes by Acts 29 workers with the intention of connecting them to the community.

Because of what God is doing and people’s desire to be a part of this ministry, a phone system, three vans, a brand new four-wheel-drive truck, a commercial kitchen and office furniture have been provided. Every bit of it is being used to the glory of God.

Jesus’ words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2), is nowhere more true than in Hamtramck. A dark spiritual place is coming alive with a hunger for the love of Jesus. Workers are pouring themselves out to the community. But resources and manpower are limited. Would you join us in praying what Jesus urged us to pray? “‘Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Matt. 9:38).

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Acts 29, visit www.acts-29.us or call 313-365-acts (2287). You may write to the Acts 29 team at 12101 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck, MI 48212 or e-mail acts29@acts-29.us

Cover artwork for June 2006 June 2006

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