Neighborhood sees no benefit from revival

The Pensacola News Journal/November 20, 1997
By Kimberly Blair

Pensacola -- The Brownsville Revival wealth has not spread to its community.

Within one block of Brownsville Assembly of God, the signs of poverty, crime and fear are everywhere: elderly shut-ins living in shacks, families crowded into dilapidated houses, prostitutes and drug dealers openly working the streets.

Church leaders have said that the revival has generated an outreach ministry, but the News Journal has found that the program is not funded by the church nor is it an official church function.

The outreach activity was created by two out-of-state visitors who came to the revival, saw the community 's needs and organized a group of volunteers into Brownsville Revival Blessing Outreach. It receives its support entirely from private and business donations, not from the church or revival revenues. The church does help by providing storage space.

In 1996 the church had revenue of about $3 million from the revival, based on its own estimates of $12,500 from each revival service. Its annual budget for 1996 was $6.6 million, and it had a year-end cash balance of $1.1 million.

Poverty reigns

Within sight of the church, an elderly man lives inside a house where nearly every window pane is broken or missing. He has no protection from intruders.

Up and down the streets, bungalows in good repair stand next to houses that look abandoned roofs are sagging and walls are caving in and plaster is mildewed but are home to some of Pensacola 's neediest.

From within one of the houses, a baby wails. A door opens and children spill out the front door. They quickly claim a scattering of worn-out toys on a dirt lawn. One child sits on a broken tricycle and pretends to ride.

"I have never seen that church do anything for this community in the past 2 years. And I see everything that goes on in this community, said Dori Rice, who lives a block from the church.

She also said she watches johns picking up neighborhood prostitutes a daily and nightly activity.

Evangelist Steve Hill tells revival crowds that the revival 's influence is cleaning up prostitution, drugs and street crime in Brownsville.

Not true, residents say.

"What has happened is the prostitutes have moved closer into our community away from the church," Rice said. "Now johns are driving up and down the streets where our children play."

Roscoe Urbaniak, who has lived a few blocks from Brownsville Assembly of God for 50 years, said other crimes are on the upswing, raising anxiety throughout the neighborhood. He told the News Journal that elderly neighborhood women are afraid to come out of their homes because of a recent rash of purse snatchings.

More homeless

Rice and her neighbors also say they are seeing more and more homeless people wandering their streets, sleeping in dumpsters and doorways.

People who live in the neighborhood say they have gone to the church and been turned away.

Leaders of Brownsville Assembly of God, which has been a thriving church for many years, blame the 2-year-old revival for the church 's lack of attention to community need.

"We have been so overwhelmed by the revival. We haven 't had time to organize anything," said Rose Compton, the church 's business administrator.

Rice said the neighborhood hopes the church will act soon.

"Lord have mercy. They should open the doors every day to the needy, Rice said.

We have so many homeless. They could open that kitchen daily to feed them. They have the money. They have the people. That is the only way they can reach the people is by helping them."

Assistant pastor Carey Robertson said church leaders have been aware of the neighborhood 's needs for some time but have not had a chance to tackle the problem.

"Our problem was organization," he said. "We started about six months ago to get into serious discussions about the need and how we would do this and fund it."

It took one woman, working on her own, to start a program.

Cathy Mack moved to Pensacola from Johnson City, Tenn., this year and was struck by the neighborhood 's needs.

"When I first came here I thought I 'd go to the Bible school," she said. "I felt a calling to do this instead."

One of her volunteers is another revival transplant Barbara Lee of Tyler, Texas.

Lee moved to Pensacola recently after attending four revival meetings in December. "I was living an upper-middle class lifestyle before becoming a missionary. I gave up the lifestyle to come here. Now I have a modest lifestyle. But I 'm doing what I want: I 'm on the front lines," she said.

On Aug. 16, the outreach program went into action, canvassing about 50 houses in the blocks around the church.

Reaching out

The volunteers knocked on doors and handed out Bibles, Blessing Cards and revival tickets. The revival is free, but space in the main sanctuary is limited; the tickets guarantee a seat.

The Blessing Cards had space for the residents to fill in name, address, phone number and a list of urgent needs.

Jackie Cobb, 21, of Mallory Street credits the group 's prayers for landing her not one, but two jobs.

"I was lazy. I needed a job but I didn 't have a desire to look. When they prayed for me, it motivated me to find a job," she said.

The volunteers have done yard work and minor plumbing repairs for an elderly woman. She asked that her name not be used because she lives alone.

And they have helped Chuck Manning, 57, who said he barely makes ends meet with a disability check and the money he makes recycling copper.

"They bring me groceries," said Manning, who lost both of his legs in an accident. "I think they are wonderful people."

Robertson, who is overseeing Brownsville Assembly of God, says that the outreach program needs to focus mainly on spreading the Gospel.

"First, we want to evangelize. Win them over to Christ. Then we will help with daily needs as well as spiritual needs," Robertson said.

Dave Corson, administrator for Pensacola 's largest church, Olive Baptist Church, takes a different approach to outreach.

"Our number one responsibility is to present the good news of Christ," he said. "But a lot of time a hungry person or thirsty person can 't receive the good news you are trying to share because they are hungry. You have to take care of their physical needs before the spiritual needs."

Residents say that any improvements in the neighborhood have come through the Brownsville Neighborhood Improvement Organization, a volunteer group of people living in the area. They work closely with the Brownsville Redevelopment Program, local law enforcement agencies and Escambia County officials, Rice said.

Many business owners in the Brownsville community were eager to talk to the News Journal about the church and revival 's failure to help the community, but few would permit their names to be printed. Several said they feared retaliation from the church.

As an example, a woman who operates a business on Mobile Highway said revival regulars often come into her store and harass her.

And Jim Murphy, owner of neighborhood bar, Murphy 's Too, said revival visitors have vandalized his place.

He says he allows people waiting in line for the revival to come into his bar to use his restroom.

They repay him by defacing his bathroom walls.

"They use my bathroom and write, 'Come to Church,'" Murphy said.

Murphy said he is not offended by the message, but he is offended that people who say they are disciples of Christ would deface his property.

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