In the cereal capital of the world, the Battle Creek, Mich., Corps is inviting the community to its table and serving up generous portions of hope. It couldn’t be more timely as the financial news and commentary website 24/7 Wall Street recently ranked the city as the 22nd worst place to raise children in America. Two of the corps’ newest efforts include Hood (Neighborhood) Church and Skate Church.
Hood Church was born out of Corps Outreach Sergeant Raul Maysonet’s passionate vision to reach those who’d never step foot inside the corps. It’s driven by his own radical life-changing experience with Christ which helped him overcome hate and addictions in 2013.
“I love Jesus Christ because He broke every chain, every demonic strong hold, every addiction, every desire for filth or pornography, every longing for the gangbanging lifestyle that I so sincerely loved,” said Raul, who wants others to know the same liberating power of the gospel.
With corps officers Majors Kevin and Christie Van Zee’s support, this ministry is flourishing, welcoming the whosoever into its fellowship for a meal and worship on the third Thursday of each month. A little more than a year old, Hood Church has grown by word of mouth and consistently averages 75 in attendance.
What started with a snack and bottled water has turned into a feast as pizza, pulled pork and other delicious fare is provided by local restaurants and supporters. While some people come just for the meal, acknowledged Raul, more than half often head to the chapel for a worship service that celebrates God’s love and transforming power. The meeting incorporates Christian hip hop, drama, testimonies, lots of scripture and preaching. Recovering addicts share their struggles and successes, and the altar is lined with people every meeting. Prayer cards indicate sometimes people have accepted Christ and often request continued prayer. These requests are shared with the corps’ members.
While the music style and loudness is very different than what’s enjoyed on Sunday mornings at the corps, the Van Zees and about 12 soldiers turn out to support this new monthly ministry. They talk and pray with people, invite them to come to Sunday worship and are encouraged when participants visit.
After returning from the commissioning weekend earlier this year, the corps adopted a summer focus on the principles from the book I am a Church Member for Sunday morning meetings to encourage the congregation to be functioning members. According to Major Christie, testimonies coinciding with the book’s chapters sparked conversations and furthered commitment to the cause of Christ.
“Our collective desire is to reach others and to not make our Church about what we like in our own personal preferences and desires,” she said.
One of the newest ways the Battle Creek Corps has been looking to enlarge its table is an initiative with the owners of a skate park, “Battle Ground,” in the local mall. Tuesday night has been dubbed Christian Skate Church with the aim of reaching youth for Christ. For the last six months Raul, Jon Hardy, Scottie Williams and Chris Rivera from the corps have taken youth from the corps’ neighborhood to Skate Church. Conversations and mentoring that takes place each week as the vans head to Skate Church honor the Lord.
“I help with the outreach programs because we can provide a positive environment for some of our neighborhood friends to get away from their ‘usual’ life and give them an opportunity to focus on God,” said Scottie, who helps with Hood Church as well.
Battle Ground staff member Matt Ramiller has given his testimony at Hood Church and shared how God is using his love of the sport to reach youth with the gospel; some of the youth who participate in Skate Church also have visited Hood Church. This fall corps members are hoping to bring the youth to the corps more frequently for character-building programs known as “WOW: Worship on Wednesday.” Each youth night includes organized games in the gym, Supper Club, girl guards, rangers, sunbeams, explorers and moonbeams and ends with a united worship in the chapel.
“These distinct ministries and outreach may look very different than the usual place setting, but that’s part of what makes coming to the table so exciting and inviting,” said Major Christie. “Sharing interests, talents, testimonies and life stories help us connect to one another in God’s family. Whether we’re sitting at the table at lunch in Sally’s Kitchen, our daily hot meal service served at the corps, learning new hip hop Christian music in our Hood Church, praying we don’t break a leg at Skate Church or praising God during Sunday worship at the corps, our ‘table is set and we are ready to serve.’”