Meeting needs in Indy’s inner city
Mickey Noah, Baptist Press
March 10, 2011

Meeting needs in Indy’s inner city

Meeting needs in Indy’s inner city
Mickey Noah, Baptist Press
March 10, 2011


is a modern day version of the widow best known for her mite, whom Jesus

described in Luke 21:1-4 as having “put in more than all of them. For all these

people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has

put in all she had to live on.”

A 62-year-old tall, slender

African American, Robert foraged the sidewalks, curbs and streets of

Indianapolis, pocketing lost coins — picking up a penny here, a nickel or dime

there. His painstaking work, all on foot, would add up to a sacrificial $25

contribution to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American


By the way, Robert was


Photo by Ted Wilcox

Robert Maul, a 62-year-old former drug addict, now is one of the most faithful members of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in downtown Indianapolis led by missionary Tom Polak. See video.

Poor in the pocketbook but

not in spirit, Robert is a former heroin addict who liked to fight. He served

five different sentences in an Indiana penitentiary. He slept under bridges and

interstate overpasses. But through the ministry of missionary Tom Polak, who is

jointly funded by the North American Mission Board and the State Convention of

Baptists in Indiana, Robert was redeemed by the Lord.

Tom and Marla Polak are two

of the 5,000-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their

territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American


“Robert came to a block

party we had about a year ago,” Polak said. “He came, had his lunch, listened

to music and, somewhere along the line, somebody witnessed to Robert and shared

the gospel. He was saved that day, a Saturday. The next day, Robert was in our

church service and he began to come every Sunday.

“He was baptized, and he’s

been very faithful. Now, a year later, you see the growth in him. He’s very

genuine, very sincere. He’s really been quite an encouragement to me to see

what God can do in a person’s life,” Polak said.

In 1995, Tom and Marla

Polak left a Kansas City ministry for Indianapolis, where Polak began serving

as director of the Metro Baptist Center in the inner city and pastor of

Cornerstone Christian Fellowship.

“We are here helping people,

ministering to people, praying, evangelizing and giving people a place to go,”

Polak said. “We minister to the people who live in the downtown Indianapolis

area, who are homeless, low-income people -– people who are struggling.”

Although 52-year-old Polak

pastors an inner-city church where “we don’t have a lot,” he encourages new

Christians like Robert to find a way to give.

“These are people who

themselves are standing on the corners asking for money. These are people who

are homeless. But I encourage them to give what they can to Annie Armstrong. I

tell them the money is going to missionaries who are sharing the gospel around

the country. I did that for about three weeks, leading up to the Sunday we took

up the Annie offering.”

On that Sunday, Robert had

a surprise for Polak.

Photo by Ted Wilcox

Tom and Marla Polak are North American Mission Board Week of Prayer missionaries based in Indianapolis, where Tom serves as director of Metro Baptist Center and pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship.

“Robert calls me over and he

hands me this large cylinder and it has some weight to it. I asked him what it

was, and he told me it was his offering. ‘I’ve been finding this money and have

been dedicating it to the Lord,’ Robert told me. I thought of the woman with

the two pennies who gave all she had,” Polak said. “That’s Robert.”

Polak said Christians don’t

always meet the “Roberts” of the world.

“We may see them on the

corner or may bump into them downtown, but do we see them as people who may

have made mistakes, maybe have issues or problems? You know God loves these

folks and has a plan for them, and He can use them in many ways.”

On a typical day, Metro

Baptist Center runs a food and clothing pantry for the needy and offers job

placement services and substance abuse assistance. Polak and his staff not only

try to minister to a person’s physical needs — as important as they are –- but

also to their spiritual needs.

“When a person comes in and

they are in need and hurting, they see we’re here for them. They see a genuine

concern in us. That makes them more open to hearing the gospel and for prayer.

They’re more apt to open up and tell you where they’re coming from and what

their real needs are.”

In addition to harvesting

the “Roberts” for Christ, Polak also is encouraged by the mission groups,

including seven last summer, who travel to Indianapolis from Southern Baptist

churches around the United States using sports and construction ministries to

reach lost people, especially youth.

“For instance, we had a

wonderful adult and youth group from Collinsville, Okla., who came to do a

weeklong sports camp in one of the low-income housing projects.”

Inner-city kids were coached

in basketball, football, baseball and golf. More importantly, they heard about


Born and raised in Syracuse,

N.Y., Polak earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard Payne University in Texas

and a master of divinity degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in

Kansas City, Mo. Although he went to school and pastored in Texas and Missouri,

he said he’s more comfortable in the north.

“I’m in a place where I feel

God has called me. I have a great assurance that God wants me here for this

time, and that’s a great feeling. I like using my talents and abilities on the

things God has gifted me with so I’m able to put them into practice and help


“Indianapolis is a wonderful city,” Polak said. “It’s a clean city, an active

city with many activities and things to do. The Christian organizations here

work together well. We see tremendous needs of homelessness, mental illness and

drug addiction. But we’re trying to address these issues. We have about 80

churches in central Indiana working together.”

Tom and Marla, a native of

Topeka, Kan., an occupational therapist and a graduate of the University of

Kansas, have five children: Hannah, Rachel, Caleb, Moriah and Joel.

(EDITOR’S NOAH — Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. The annual

Week of Prayer for North American Missions in Southern Baptist churches is

March 6-13 in conjunction with the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a

goal of $70 million to help pay the salaries and ministry support of 5,000-plus

missionaries serving in North America under the SBC’s North American Mission

Board. For more information, go to www.anniearmstrong.com.)

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