Testimony Tuesday: Gary Miller (garydonmiller.com)

“Sail into the wind.” These were the words Tim St. Clair spoke to me in March 1995 following a three-week revival emphasis in our church. God had poured out His Presence on us, and had touched the hearts of our people to embrace a community that been tolerated at best, and stiff-armed at worst.

For five years I had been pastoring a church that had once been a leading church in the city of Fort Worth, but had experienced dramatic socio-economic and demographic change. The median income of the households surrounding our church was eight thousand dollars a year.

The once vibrant blue-collar neighborhood had transitioned into a Hispanic community. The school across the street, where the church had been founded 80 years before was now 90% Hispanic as families from Mexico, Cuba and several different Central American countries came pouring into the city searching for employment and affordable housing.

Racial tension existed between the neighboring black community and our newly arrived Hispanic neighbors, and it was fed by the rivalry for turf among the Crips, The Bloods and The Latin Kings. Businesses in the area were tagged with gang signs, as each group marked their territory.

I vividly remember the Saturday morning a drive by shooting left a riddled car and two dazed gang members on the steps of our church as we prepared for a wedding. The families visiting from Oklahoma couldn’t wait to make a run back to the border, north of the Red River.

A little over a month after I heard the words, “Sail into the wind,” our church was hit by “The Mayfest Hailstorm.” Softball sized hail swept through our neighborhood as the 10th Worst Storm in American history destroyed the roofs of our church, 70 A.C. units, three vans, and took out 500 windows. Just four years before we had rebuilt our church from a fire that gutted our auditorium. It was very discouraging as we said to ourselves, “Here we go again.”

As only God could do, He began to give me a vision to lead our people to sail into the winds of adversity and find His way through the storm. I formed MISSION FT. WORTH DISASTER RELIEF, and on Sunday afternoons after church we began by knocking on doors in a six square mile area, conducting a Disaster Relief Survey to determine the most pressing needs.

Over the next two years, we learned what it meant to sail into the wind as we…

  • Provided disaster relief to hundreds of homes in our neighborhood, and enlisted our people and teams all over the country to roof over 100 homes.
  • Launched a Language Center, offering the residents assistance in learning English as a second language.
  • Adopted the elementary school across the street and provided winter coats for 900 students and teachers. These were designed as a school letter jacket in the schools purple and white colors, bearing the logo of their mascot and the school name on the back.
  • Expanded our ministry to the community through a Food Pantry / Clothing Closet.
  • Enlisted and trained volunteers to serve in the Choice Crisis Pregnancy Center that was opened by our church and operated on the outskirts of our property. Today it continues to lead expectant mothers to Christ and provide them with the resources they need to raise the children they choose to protect.

During this period of upheaval and uncertainty about our own future, we sailed into the wind by investing our lives in our community and embracing the people with the love of Jesus.

I personally dispensed with wearing a coat and tie for a year, since many of the people we were reaching had lost everything in the storm. All summer long, after church on Sunday mornings we would walk the streets of our neighborhood to knock on doors and follow up on the needs of people from Noon until night.

Three years later when I left the city of Fort Worth, a member of the City Council said to me, “I have never been to your church, but people all over the Eastside tell me you pastor that church that gets out of the walls of the building and takes it to the streets.” I don’t know if I have ever been given a greater compliment of my ministry.

As I recall those days, I remember a statement repeated to me over and over again by the people who invested so much and received so little in return. They would say, “I finally feel like I am being the church and not just going to church.”

My challenge to anyone interested in sailing into the wind and ministering to people where they are before they come to church is this:

“Be the church. Don’t just go to church. People may just follow you to church if you are the church where they need you the most.”

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