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Intersection of Life and Faith

Being Faithful to a Few City Blocks Can Change the World

  • Dr. James Emery White President, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
  • 2007 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Being Faithful to a Few City Blocks Can Change the World

As we mark the national holiday celebrating the life and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., let me tell you about a friend of mine. His name is Michael Haynes. He is nearly 80 years-old, and is a retired pastor. For over fifty years, he pastored the historic Twelfth Street Baptist Church in the Roxbury district of downtown Boston.

 

Twelfth Baptist Church is a direct descendant of the First African Baptist Meeting House on Beacon Hill, founded in 1805. In 1840, a band of dissenters from the church felt led of the Holy Spirit to become involved in the Underground Railroad, an organized means of smuggling slaves from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. They became known as the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston.

 

When I first met Michael, I asked him what he did. He said he was a pastor of a church. "Just a little church, in Roxbury. Its ministry is pretty much serving the neighborhood around it." Then, with the kind of thoughtful pause and careful wording that reveals something of great significance, he added, "Those three or four city blocks are what I've given my whole life to. It's been my world."

 

One of the first persons on those blocks that he had a chance to serve was a young man named Martin. Yes, that Martin. Michael mentored Martin Luther King, Jr., gave him his first ministry opportunity in a local church, and even introduced him to a young woman named Coretta who would one day be his wife.

 

Michael kept serving those few city blocks, always with a vision for changing them. And they needed change: Michael's world has been a world of drug dealers, pimps, and gangs; poverty, homelessness and racism. He knew from the beginning that any real change would rest on leadership. Not just his leadership, but a generation of leaders. Leaders like Martin. But even more to the point, though he would never make such a claim, leaders like himself who would take up residence on their own few blocks in areas around the country and around the world where nobody would naturally want to reside. 

 

So he began talking about training leaders, praying about training leaders, vision-casting about training leaders, until finally he witnessed the reality of training leaders. First with a few classes at Twelfth Baptist, then as an extension center of a seminary, finally as a full-fledged campus. 

 

All on those three or four city blocks he's called home for so many years.

 

Later this year, the first building for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's CUME (Center for Urban Ministry Education) campus in Roxbury, Massachusetts will be dedicated. Today, CUME has become one of the leading urban training centers in the United States, teaching every week in six languages, developing hundreds of leaders for urban ministry.

 

The building to be dedicated will be called the Michael E. Haynes building. And it's one block down from Twelfth Baptist.

 

This is not all that Michael's life has brought to bear on this world. Dr. Haynes has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and as a member of the state Parole Board. He serves on the board of directors of several organizations including Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christianity Today, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He also is a member of the U. S. Board of Daystar University, Nairobi.

           

There is much talk in Christian circles about critiquing culture. There is far less about creating it. Yet this is precisely what Christ intended through his famed metaphors of "salt" and "light." Taking our few city blocks, and bringing Christ to bear. And as Michael has demonstrated, it only takes a few blocks, and being faithful to them.

 

This month, we take a day to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And well we should. But it makes me want to celebrate another life with equal vigor. The life of Dr. Michael E. Haynes, who still lives on those few blocks in Roxbury.

     

Without whom, we wouldn't be thinking of Martin at all.


For Twelfth Baptist Church, see www.tbcboston.org.

View other entries on  Dr. White's blog.


James Emery White (Ph.D.) is president and professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Prior to becoming president of Gordon-Conwell, Dr. White was the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. James Emery White is the author of over a dozen books, including such Gold Medallion nominees as Serious Times and A Search for the Spiritual, Christianity Today book-of-the-year award winner Embracing the Mysterious God, as well as The Prayer God Longs For and Rethinking the Church.