Pastor Jerry Cannon still marvels at what happened at C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church in 2011. A year ago, in January, Cannon attended a gathering for pastors of large congregations sponsored by the Office of Evangelism and Church Growth. While there Cannon “got a hold of” the office’s brand new resource called Engage, which emphasizes the importance of connecting evangelism with disciple making. “I was asked if our leaders would form a focus group for Engage,” says Cannon. “I saw it as a way for us to go deeper, but I had no idea of its ripple effect on lives, of how God would use it to show us this is why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
As the leadership team at C.N. Jenkins began to use Engage at their monthly session meetings, sharing their faith and praying together, opportunities for mission in their community began to emerge. In April the church received an invitation to be a summer host for Freedom School. “It just happened in our homework for Engage. Leaders were sharing a Scripture passage with three to four people in the congregation, asking them to see how it comes alive,” says Cannon. “We felt like God was moving in our midst, asking us to give of ourselves to 50 children (third through eighth grade) in our community.”
On June 20, 2011, C.N. Jenkins became one of the first African American churches to host a Freedom School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. “What an impact this program had on us,” says church member Doris Boyd. A retired educator, Boyd served as volunteer coordinator for the summer Freedom School program. “Our congregation raised more than $60,000, had 135 volunteers from the church and community, and transformed much of our building into a summer school.” The volunteers served as Harambee (a Kiswahili word for “let’s pull together”) readers, breakfast servers, field trip chaperones, motivational speakers and on-site activity planners, where they shared their skills and hobbies, like playing chess. “Every morning after breakfast, the scholars — that’s what they’re called at Freedom School — would do the Harambee, an exhilarating exercise designed to help them see how special they are to God.” After engaging in positive chants and dancing around the room, they convened to listen to their Harambee reader. “Reading skills are one of the primary focuses of the program,” says Boyd. “Every Friday each scholar was given a book to take home. What a privilege to reach out to the children in this way, believing God ordained us to do this.”
While C.N. Jenkins was hosting Freedom School, deacon Sharon Johnson was leading a mission trip in Belize. Earlier in the year a friend she’d worked with in the airlines told her that his dad, who was a minister, needed help in leading a vacation Bible school that would give guidance to kids there.
“My friend had to move back home and was telling me how much need there was,” says Johnson. “As one of the leaders, I remember how Engage encouraged us to pray and pray, which I did. None of us were sure the trip it was possible, but the leaders supported me.” Johnson recruited a team of 14 for the Belize mission trip. The vacation Bible school in Belize targeted 100 kids. By the third day 140 kids showed up. “It was so humbling seeing some of the children who didn’t have much. God is working in our lives to get us to go deeper, to recognize that we’ve been put on earth to help each other.”
As Freedom School and the Belize mission trip were happening, C.N. Jenkins partnered with Covenant Presbyterian Church for Impact Charlotte in November. “800 volunteers from the two congregations worked together on 50 service projects all over the city,” says Michele Stewart, C.N. Jenkins point person for the project. One of the projects at C.N. Jenkins was a one-stop shop where folks could get a haircut, shave and free women’s and men’s clothing. “One of the homeless men told us he was going to see his family,” says Cannon, “that we were allowing him to go home with dignity because he had clean clothes and was clean shaven.”
“There was another guy looking for a coat,” says Stewart, “but we were out, because coats were the first thing to go. One of our volunteers gave him the coat off his back.” Another little girl who lived in the city shelter with her mom came into the shop with damaged hair that was in desperate need of a trim. “The stylist we recruited worked so hard to put a nice hairstyle on that little girl. She was so excited about her new nice and bouncy haircut. She kept brushing it — didn’t want to leave the room.” Those who volunteered for Impact Charlotte want to expand the event, possibly into a monthly community outreach effort. They’re working on plans to do a one-stop shop in April. “All of us want to go deeper in our faith and share what we’ve been given — our blessings — with others.”
Jerry Cannon is deeply grateful for what he has seen and heard since C.N. Jenkins leaders began using Engage. “I want to thank the office of Evangelism for allowing us to be in their laboratory. Some of our leaders got to go an Evangelism conference in August and talk about how evangelism is going to make a difference in the church, as we move away from what we’ve done — building attendance and programs. Engage gave us language to describe why we’re doing what we’re doing, to connect people to God and each other.”
Editor’s note: Ninety-four persons made a profession faith and started the new member process at CN Jenkins in 2011. Sixty-three completed the process. More than half were under the age of 39.