Memphis pastor leading 'church without walls'
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP) -- It would have been easy for Barron Martin to take the safe route. He could have moved from the Memphis area, found a comfortable job, and simply "tuned out" the violence and poverty that plagues the neighborhood where he was raised.
Instead, he chose the opposite approach. He elected to be on the frontline.
"Frayser is high in gang violence, high in crime, high in poverty," Martin said. "But we can give our people hope by teaching them the basic principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When they apply that, they will see an effective change in their lives. And when that effective change comes, we have a better community."
Martin likes to refer to One Faith Christian Center as "the church without walls." He -- along with a core group of committed members -- have established a steady presence in the community, even meeting with gang leaders in an attempt to bring harmony to the area.
"We've been to homes in this poverty-stricken community where people don't even have a front door," Martin said. "And we've provided a door for them so that they can take down the sheets and blankets. We've provided shoes and supplied food -- and we've done this not to get them to come to church, but to show them that Jesus is real and that we really do care about them."
The church, which has established numerous tutoring and mentoring programs for youth and children, holds a chapel service each Wednesday night for local students. More than 300 students have given their life to Christ during these gatherings over the past few years.
"The male mentors are absent in our community," said Robert Blake, a deacon at One Faith. "So it is good for the church to come in and be strong male mentors for these young men, because a lot of our boys don't have fathers.
"Some of these kids believe there is no way out, and they don't believe in Christ," he said. "It's not until we go out into the streets, and get them to come into the church, that we can really show them that there is a God and He sent His son into the world to die for them."
One Faith Christian Center Church receives funding from Tennessee Baptists through the Golden Offering of Tennessee Missions.
"If it had not been for the Golden Offering and the assistance that we've gained from it, we would not be able to survive as a church," Martin said. "The (offering) is totally, totally essential. I encourage everyone to keep supporting that so that we can keep being able to do the evangelism and discipleship that the Lord has commanded us to do."
Martin is a bivocational pastor. In addition to his role at the church, he is a certified HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) technician.
One Faith Christian Center Church has a partnership with West Side Middle School, and the church is housed at the school.
The partnership started several years ago after Martin approached the school's administration about the possibility of his church "adopting" the school.
The idea was initially met with skepticism, and Martin said he was told, "We've had a lot of larger churches tell us that they want to adopt a school. And what will happen is that they will come over here, bring out a news crew, take a picture, and leave a check -- and then we don't see them anymore."
But Martin quickly put their fears to rest. "I told them, 'Well, you don't have to worry about that happening, because I don't have a check to leave you,'" he said.
Although the church has a small congregation and small budget, they haven't let that stand in their way.
"We're a small church, but we don't look at the numbers," said Monica Blake, the church administrator. "God is blessing us with everything we need to go out and minister to the youth in this community."
The church puts a particular emphasis on ministering to children. "It's about reaching them before someone else does," said Andrea Martin, the pastor's wife. "It's about Jesus."
One Faith's dedication to children has literally opened doors for the church.
"We adopted (West Side Middle School) three years ago, and we've been consistent there," Barron Martin said. "Our impact has been so effective that last year they asked me how I would feel about taking up residence and moving my church into the actual building."
And that's exactly what he did.
Martin is aware that the conditions surrounding the church are hard. He noted there is "a heavy drug presence, a lot of single parents, unemployment is very prevalent, and we have a lot of behavior issues that come from the effects of being in poverty -- because poverty begets violence," he said. "We deal with break-ins, murders, homicides."
Still, God has blessed the church, and the impact is being felt. Martin was recently told, during a meeting with a gang leader, that the gangs have agreed to a truce on Sundays as a show of appreciation for Martin's work in the neighborhood.
Martin tried to take it a step further by asking the gang leader to come to church. Thus far, he has declined the offer, but Martin is making some headway.
"I haven't won him yet to Christ, but I've won his respect," Martin noted. Martin's passion for the neighborhood in which he was raised stems from the Christian legacy that he was given.
"I am a product of the Frayser community," he said. "I was raised by a single mother. She couldn't give me a whole lot, but one thing she gave me, she gave me Jesus."
Watch a video about One Faith Christian Center Church's ministry in its community: