By Kayla Rinker
SPRINGFIELD – “She was a Wiccan and a gang member and addicted to all kinds of drugs,” Brandon Dodd said, “and then a couple of weeks ago she said she was ready, willing and wanting to accept Christ.”
Dodd is the volunteer youth pastor at Grant Avenue Baptist Church (GABC) where his father, Kevin Dodd, is pastor. He said Grant Avenue, which is located in an inner city area of Springfield, is not shying away from reaching out to the unique group of people who live in its surrounding mission field.
“We live in a community that is made up of mostly 16 to 30 year olds,” Brandon said. “And honestly, there wasn’t a lot for them at our church.”
That is, until now. The church recently started a ministry called “Deeper” and, as a result, many young people are giving both GABC and God a chance.
“Atheists, Wiccans (people who practice witchcraft) and drug addicts have come faithfully every Sunday night and Wednesday night,” Brandon said. “It just seems to resonate with them. They keep coming back and bringing more and more of their friends.”
“Our ministry is gritty and real, and it’s very much our neighborhood,” Kevin said.
The ministry, which meets in the basement of GABC, was named “Deeper” for two primary reasons.
“The desire of the ministry is to go deeper, not only in our worship of God, but to also bond with each other on deeper level,” Brandon said. “It’s drawing people because I think the genuineness of our worship is interesting and strange to them. We do not fit into whatever their idea is regarding what church people are supposed to be like.”
Like many small churches in Missouri, GABC attendance stays right around the 100 mark. Kevin said despite the small numbers, the volunteer effort at Grant Avenue is passionate and dedicated and unlike any he has ever seen.
““My son, Brandon, our volunteer associate pastor, Jonathan Betancourt, and C.K. Hicks, our tech man, continuously give their time and effort and energy and invest in people … and they do it for no money,” Kevin said. “Watching these young men plugged into the church the way they are is like a shot in the arm for the people at GABC.”
Kevin said another reason the church’s efforts have been successful is because of the level of permanence GABC has provided this area of Springfield. He said GABC was established in 1891 and its daycare has been open for 54 years, the longest running daycare in Springfield.
“And it has been under the same directorship (Janice Sartin) for 37 of those,” Kevin said. “That kind of stability makes a huge difference in the community.”
In his 20 years of ministry, GABC has been Kevin’s first experience with the inner city.
“It’s been a learning experience all the way around but God is still good to us in spite of us,” he said. “We have been very blessed to reap the people we have.”