Lakewood hosts bustling international churches
Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder
November 29, 2010

Lakewood hosts bustling international churches

Lakewood hosts bustling international churches
Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder
November 29, 2010

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.

Three different congregations, who meet in the same building in Durham, came together to host Vacation Bible School. While the congregations do meet separately they plan on joining together for holiday events and continue to work together in the future.

“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.

“But some

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.”