Sowing with Tears
Harvest Ministries, a program where we grow food for low-income families, started in 1992. I didn’t know anything about farming but that was okay because I liked being in a position where I had to rely on God to see him work. Zechariah 4:6 states, “’not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” When we started farming, I depended on God. I even remember the farmers asking how many acres we wanted to plant (I didn’t even know how big an acre was), so they told me we would start with an acre. I had to depend on God’s spirit to touch them, so that they would plant the garden. We started in August when you should begin in April. Six weeks later, we were standing in the middle of a huge crop of purple hull peas and snap beans. All I knew about the crop was what the farmers told me and that the Lord had been faithful.
Several years later, I became restless and stopped depending on God. I prayed in the field one day for God to show me what I needed to do and Lincoln Village was put on my heart. I saw the houses and saw broken bikes, broken dolls, broken toys, and rundown houses. It was depressing and reminded me of Ezekiel standing in the valley of the bones. I knew this was where God called me, and I was in way over my head. I could see that the enemy had been there and that he was destroying lives. I walked around the neighborhood for 2 weeks. At the time I was on the staff at Southwood, and Mike Honeycutt knew I was hanging around the neighborhood. I knew I needed to let these people see my face if I was going to evangelize to them, win their trust, learn faces and names and scout out the land. I met a lady who was struggling mentally. The next day I came back to her house—a home without running water and sewage filling the bathroom, no electricity, and roaches crawling everywhere. A little brown-eyed girl looked up at me. Standing there, I thought of my own children—this place was a mess and not fit to live in.
It was a Saturday and Mike was working in his yard but agreed to go with me. He questioned, “Where are you taking me?” As we drove into the Village, he noticed people staring at us. I was praying that this woman would be home and she was. I asked her if we could come in. I could tell Mike was troubled immediately because of the stench. I remember praying, “Lord let him get sick.” We were asked to sit down on a dirty filthy couch. We asked questions for 20 minutes, and Mike and I were able to hear, smell and see what was going on. Mike got up and said he needed to go. Outside, he turned around and said “Mark, this is where the kingdom of God needs to be.” That’s when I asked him to turn me loose here and he did. During the next few weeks, Mike spoke from the pulpit and talked about a new direction for the church. He spoke about Paul and how he had poured his life out like a drink offering and told Southwood that we needed to pour ourselves out like a drink offering into this community.
We started building relationships in the neighborhood and then went to the school. The first time I walked in to the school I went to the front office and spoke to the principal. “So, what does the school need?“ She responded, “Overhead projectors,” telling me later that she was testing me. I left and came back with 6 new overhead projectors and then asked again “What does the school need?” We started talking about the problems as she took me on a tour of the school. I met with the librarian and asked her to go to Randolph School and tell me what our library needed. She said we needed thousands of dollars. I prayed and told God I didn’t even have a budget. That week, I got a call from a person who asked that I come to her office and tell her about what was happening. After telling our story, she gave us a check. Outside, I pulled the check from my pocket and remember counting all the zeros—$100,000. I called the librarian and told her to buy the books. Matthew 19:26 says, “With man it is possible but with God all things are possible.” Faith of what God can do requires that you trust Him—it’s edgy and it challenges my faith.
Lincoln Elementary’s success was extremely important to me because I had been such a poor student. An education would be a way for the kids to escape. We started the tutorial program enabling our school to move from performing below the state’s test score standards to being named one of eight Torchbearer schools in the state for being a school of high performance in a poverty level area. We have reached academic goals each year beyond what is expected.
Lincoln Village Preservation Corporation was formed to purchase houses in the neighborhood. We have volunteers who come from all over the southeast to restore houses. A mom with 3 children has a place to call home in a neighborhood that is clean, safe and affordable. I love that effort has broken down so many denominational barriers. I am proud to be a member of Southwood, but I knew it had to be a multi-denominational effort including LVM staff from four denominations.
The next step was to start the church plant, The Village Church. Our prayer is for the church to grow and have the neighbors see it as a refuge and a healing place. I want it to be known throughout the community as a church of grace and mercy.
As I’ve seen churches and individuals participate and sacrifice time, money and experience emotional anguish to see people get better, another side of this is dark and has really challenged my faith in ways it has never been challenged. I have challenged the goodness of God and questioned His mercy. How can God watch such evil and pain in a small child’s life take place?
While attending a conference in Atlanta I met a woman from Ethiopia who had seen much more destruction and evil than I had. I asked her if she ever got mad at God and she said, “Why would I get mad at God?” “Because you watch children die all the time and pray to a God everyday who is capable of taking care of that – and how do you not question His goodness and His power?” Her reply was that she was angry at the church because God has given her as the vessel to show His mercy, His love and His grace. Isaiah 1:17 reminds us that He’s given us a great responsibility to do those very things. Psalm 82 says we should, “Rescue the weak and the needy from the hand of the wicked.” We are liberators. We have not just a responsibility but a privilege of being ambassadors and tools of good. We are to seek out and engage the enemy. We should seek out where the enemy is at work and we should be at work fighting him. To be able to defeat that enemy in the name of Christ, through the power of Christ, and see the life breathed back into a child or single mom’s life – there is no greater joy experienced. Come be a part of that experience and use your time and gifts to serve in this pocket of our community.