Sister church in Cleveland, Ohio presses on despite robberies

Like the loaves and the fish, God has taken what has been offered in thanks and multiplied it, allowing the small, faithful band of believers of Victory Baptist Chapel in inner city Cleveland, Ohio to reach multitudes with the gospel.

But their efforts have brought assaults by Satan in the form of break-ins and burglaries?22 in the past nine months, according to Minister of Missions and Discipleship Lora Lee Smith. “We know that this particular church is at ground zero ? and Satan is not happy,” said Smith, who is also director of Church and Community Ministries for the Greater Cleveland Baptist Association.

Since 2003 the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has had a missions partnership with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. The goal of the partnership is to establish a network between the two states to match needs with resources and volunteers. For example, SBTC funds helped restock the food pantry at Victory Baptist Chapel after thieves twice cleared the shelves. Smith wondered at the senseless nature of the crimes, which only end up hurting the people in the neighborhood.

“It’s not like there’s gold chalices in there.”

She said thieves have stolen the public address system twice along with other electronics used for numerous church ministries. Having to pay for damage done to the kicked-in doors and broken windows drains money from vital ministries such as the fellowship meals served each Thursday and Sunday.

Sellers Johnson III, pastor of Victory Baptist Chapel, said the church has had to eliminate the Sunday meal due to the lack of funds. For each break-in and theft there is a $250 deductible paid to the insurance company. Multiply that by 22, Smith said, and you have a major drain on a virtually non-existent church budget.

But the members of Victory Baptist Chapel press on. There are 40 members on the rolls with about 85-100 people attending services each Sunday morning. The members and other worshippers, Smith said, represent the lower socio-economic rung of this urban neighborhood. They are recently-released convicts, the homeless, the working poor, single mothers living on government assistance. “On a good day, it’s a church filled with many problems,” she said.

But it is for those very people that the church exists, she said?to offer them a hand up, not a hand out; to teach them vocational and social skills to help them secure good paying jobs; and to teach literacy to students in a school district hard hit by teacher lay-offs and school closures. Smith said she has had to teach women how to do menial kitchen duties, such as chopping and slicing food for meal preparation.

The number of ministries offered by this small congregation is unusually high. Johnson said his heart and his passion is to win Cleveland for Jesus Christ. Only 6 months into the job as pastor, Johnson is familiar with the task at hand, having worked in church planting and city missions prior to coming to Victory Baptist Chapel in April 2004. He named at least 15 evangelistic and discipleship ministries the church currently offers. From Christian rap, to pantomime, to prayer walking, to praise dance teams, Johnson said the church is using a variety of means to communicate the gospel in order to get into as many venues as possible.

The longevity of Victory Baptist Chapel is a testimony to God’s work in inner city Cleveland, Johnson said. The church has existed for 20 years on the west side of town. Today it serves a culturally diverse neighborhood?a diversity Johnson said spills into the church, a mix of African-American, Irish, Hispanic, African, Italian, and Asian people.

That people of differing cultures and upbringings can worship and serve together for the kingdom of God is a testimony to what is possible through the power of God, he said. Johnson added that he hopes

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