What does it practically look like for the local church to work together for the good of the city? Over the Christmas holiday, I spoke with Keith Lape, a pastor at River City Church of North Little Rock, to learn more about what River City Church is doing as part of the Urban Ministry Alliance for Greater Little Rock to impact individuals and whole communities for the sake of Christ, his kingdom and the welfare of the city.
A MISSION FIELD IN OUR OWN BACKYARD
The Urban Ministry Alliance for Greater Little Rock is a collaborative network of four, Christ-centered ministries: Silver City Church, Hand Up Housing, River City Ministry and River City Church. This alliance was birthed back in the mid-80s when a handful of believers out of the Levy Church of Christ saw that there was a mission field in their own backyard where generations of poverty and violence had plagued the people of their community.
They didn’t have a grand strategic plan but what they did have was a burden for the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40) and a desire to see God move in their community. So they started knocking on doors, offering Bible studies and doing youth outreach. Soon other people from other churches got involved and after many twists and turns the four churches and ministries of the alliance were born.
- Silver City Church – for over 25 years, their heartbeat has been a Christ-centered, biblically grounded, youth-mentoring and empowerment ministry for young people who come from chronic disadvantage and poverty.
- Hand Up Housing – provides high-accountability, transitional, temporary and transformational housing for men and women.
- River City Ministry – their homeless resource center gives food, clothing and spiritual guidance. The ministry also provides housing resources and counsel, health care (medical, dental and vision) and gives chemical dependency assessments and referrals for rehab and mental health issues.
- River City Church – an inner city mission church that proclaims Christ, makes disciples and provides a church family and culturally connected worship within the urban poor context. The church engages in youth ministry and mentoring and gives limited material and financial assistance. It also promotes peace and justice for the community and advocates for the disadvantaged.
A MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION
Within this network, God’s people are putting themselves on the front lines of the mission field as ministers of reconciliation (1 Corinthians 5:11-21) among people who struggle with chronic poverty and dysfunction. “We are partners with God in this process of reconciliation,” Keith told me. “We seek to reconcile people back with their Creator. We are about reconciling people back to all the riches and resources that God has intended to be tapped into for his glory and the greater good. We’re about bringing people back into harmony with God and themselves, to help them live in the world as God intended.”
Some missionaries travel to far-off lands to spread the gospel. For Keith, God’s call wasn’t to another country but down the street. “I was commissioned by the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ to be a missionary to the inner city. The church was convicted about being engaged in global missions but not as much locally, which is why they called me to be their missionary.”
Keith told me that the particular people group the believers at River City Church are seeking is one that has experienced generational poverty and chronic brokenness.
We are intentional about bringing reconciliation into places where there is hurt, broken families and communities and toxic lifestyle patterns and behaviors that prolong poverty.
Keith admits that the process of change can be painfully slow because many of the people they want to reach come from difficult backgrounds, are disadvantaged in many ways and have deeply ingrained ways of thinking and patterns of behavior that can create obstacles to change. And yet, despite the hard soil of this mission field, Keith and the believers of River City Church continue to minister with love for their neighbor and a conviction to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who did the same for the “least of these.”
In 1998 Keith’s wife Laura started mentoring Sonta, an 11-year-old girl who was part of the Silver City Church youth mentoring program. Keith and his wife have maintained a steady friendship with Sonta over the years but there have been many ups and downs in her life. She has faced many hardships and challenges related to generational poverty and chronic brokenness in her own life and in her family.
About 4 years ago Sonta hit a low point, which is when she reconnected with Keith and his wife. They took Sonta and her two children into their home until she was able to find housing through Hand Up Housing. With the help of this program and the support system of believers and friends around her, Sonta began to make changes. She got her high school diploma through the Goodwill Industries Excel program and began taking college courses. Eventually, she was able to graduate from Hand Up Housing and get housing resources and assistance for her own home.
For Sonta she continues to face hardships and challenges. Some jobs haven’t worked out and other opportunities have fallen through but Sonta now has, according to Keith, “a solid foundation from which to operate.” Sonta continues to cling to the Lord and be a godly influence to those around her, especially in her family. She helped get many of her siblings housing through Hand Up Housing, encouraged some of them to get driver’s licenses like she did and find jobs and continues to minister to her brother who is currently in prison. Her two children are now teenagers and active in River City Church’s youth ministry.
A VISION FOR PRAYER AND PEACE
In the face of a global pandemic, societal strife and division, racial tension and injustice Keith and the believers at River City Church press forward with a vision for passionately practicing prayer and pursuing peace.
Through passionate prayer, the body of believers at River City Church worships God with praise and thanksgiving. They seek him for more ministry opportunities and look to him to heal brokenness and give spiritual nourishment, care and growth in their lives and community. They also pray for protection against the enemy and his devices to kill and destroy and for God’s kingdom to advance and bring new life and reconciliation to places where there has been only death and division.
For Keith the power of prayer cannot be overstated and has benefited greatly from the annual Arkansas Prayer Summit.
The Prayer Summit in particular has profoundly influenced my approach to prayer, ministry and life. Largely influenced by this framework, I have woven a variety of prayer practices into the fabric of my life and ministry that have set me on a much healthier, spiritually vital, Christ-dependent and empowered trajectory.
In pursuing peace, the believers of River City Church strive for the peace of God to be experienced both within the Body of Christ and outside of it in the community. They strive to see reconciliation with God and with others in the lives of those in and around their community and for individuals and whole communities to experience the abundance, wholeness and true rest only Jesus can give.
HOPE FOR A UNITED CHURCH
What gives Keith hope for the local church in Central Arkansas?
I find hope in our efforts like CityChurch Network that help us connect meaningfully with each other in our efforts to continue the mission and ministry of Christ. Of course, there are lots of reasons for discouragement. We’ve been through a season of discouragement […] but as I connect with my brothers and sisters from other churches and ministries I see hope and that there’s a good reason not to give up, that God’s people can unite for kingdom good.
We are thankful for the exceptional work of River City Church and for all the churches in our city that are establishing believers in the fundamentals of the faith and working toward a genuine unity that displays the love of Christ. They’re helping the whole Church grow.
Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Christopher Loux, Communications Director and Network Developer, CityChurch Network