Regardless of what the
future might hold for Lakewood Baptist in Durham, its impact on the community
will be felt for years to come.
Rather than resign itself to
quietly fading away, Lakewood has thrown open its doors to not only one but two
other congregations that bring the facility alive with activity several days a
What’s more, the new groups are decidedly international. Grace Mission
Community Church is comprised of not only first- and second-generation Koreans,
but also has attendees from Singapore, China and Australia. And its interim
pastor, Biju Chacko, is from India.
Members of Gospel Baptist,
the third group that meets at Lakewood, come from Burma.
“It’s just a wonderful
situation,” says Ralph Harrell, the 81-year-old interim pastor of Lakewood.
“It’s kinda like what I think heaven’s going to be, all of us mixed together …
Any time during the week, you come around here, and it’s a bustling place.”
While the logistics of
moving congregations in and out on a regular basis can get hectic, the groups
also work and worship together. They plan to celebrate together at Thanksgiving
and Christmas this year, and they’ve also had joint choirs.
The very best example of the
congregations working together, however, was this year’s Vacation Bible School.
Lakewood is an old congregation of perhaps two dozen, while Grace is made up
mostly of undergraduates studying at Duke, Carolina, N.C. State and Meredith.
Neither group has many children, but that didn’t stop them from reaching out to
the community’s youngsters.
About three weeks out, 30
volunteers hit the streets to talk with local families, pre-register children
and pass out door hangers. When VBS commenced 107 children attended in addition
to 40 staff members. Each child received a book bag filled with school supplies
and a Bible.
While Grace took the lead in
the program for the most part, 100 percent of Lakewood’s members helped by
marking Bibles with the plan of salvation, baking cookies and cup cakes, making
donations or helping with school supplies. After the end of VBS, follow-ups
were made and the church now has about 30 children attending Sunday School each
Three people have joined
Lakewood since VBS, including two by profession of faith. There’s also a food
pantry where those in the community can receive help every Sunday. When the
church meets to eat, they invite others in as well.
“The congregation is very
aware of the locale that they’re placed in,” says Chacko, Grace’s interim
pastor who is also on the pastoral services staff at Duke University. “These
are university students pursuing higher education, but there’s such a desire to
look around the community and see where people are and what their needs are.
“(Those in the community)
are constantly drawn towards us. The leadership and the congregants are very
aware as they drive in, as they walk around, there’s this need around the
church. They’re saying, ‘We cannot ignore this. We have to respond and be the
salt and light that Christ has called us to be in the community.’”
So well have the
relationships worked, plans are under way for Lakewood to deed its property to
Grace Mission Community Church at some point. There’s no rush on either side,
as both are in a state of transition. Harrell plans to retire and the very real
possibility is that rather than two or three different congregations, Lakewood
and Grace could become one unit, comprised of young, old and in between.
“I have felt at the end of
the year, we will probably need to make some change,” Harrell admits.
of the members that we have going now say they want to continue to work with
these different groups. We wish it could become one church, and it might be. If
the Lord leads in that direction, I hope that they will follow.”
For Chacko and the Grace
membership, the relationship with Lakewood has provided it with something very
close to a perfect working relationship.
“Grace Church is very, very grateful to
Lakewood for letting us use the facility,” he said.
“The conversation is very much on the table, and we
have asked for some more time to respond. We don’t feel that we are under any
pressure to give them a response. They’ve been very understanding of the
situation Grace Church is going through right now. So, right now, no decision
has been made.”