An inner-city Assemblies of God church is meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Cleveland residents in an area where gangs, poverty, crime, drugs, and prostitution rule the streets.
A U.S. Missions Missionary Church Planter & Developer, Bob Willard, his wife, Judy, and their four children moved to Cleveland in 2010. The Willards soon started a Bible study that packed 20 people in their living room, plus an after-school program to reach out to children in the neighborhood.
The ministry served as the genesis for The Meeting Place Church (TMPC), which is “about meeting God, meeting people, and meeting needs," according to Willard, who pastors the congregation. Willard says the church focuses on physical assistance — giving away food, clothing, and school supplies — in order to introduce people to God. TMPC typically draws about 35 people for Sunday services.
Earlier this year, Danae Evans, 22, accepted Jesus as Savior at the church. Evans has been attending TMPC for five months.
“Life has been much healthier and better since attending this church,” says Evans. “God hears me.”
In 2013, the house next door to the Willards went through foreclosure. Because of the house’s dilapidated condition, and finding favor with the director of the bank that owned it, Willard purchased the property for a mere $500. TMPC has been holding services at the residence since November 2015.
“We have since renovated the house and have many great stories of God’s provision,” says Willard, 56. “We use it 100 percent for ministry: church, after-school program, missions teams, outreach, and summer interns.”
This summer, the bank donated to the church another nearby foreclosed building, which previously served as a tavern.
“It was a quit claim deed,” Willard says. “No cost, no strings attached, just a free building!”
The structure is being remodeled, and when completed will feature the church's main sanctuary, a Christian coffeehouse, Christian counseling services, and a community food pantry, according to Willard.
“I’m trusting the Lord to spark the hearts of believers to provide the resources and missions teams to help us transform this old tavern into a house of worship," Willard says.
TMPC's ministry to bring hope and restoration to the fractured families and broken lives of Cleveland's east side is a tough challenge.
“Prostitution and drug dealing is rampant up and down the street,” Willard says. “We need continual prayer in this spiritual battle.”
Dan J. Miller, superintendent of the AG International Ministry Network, commends TMPC’s ministry.
“Bob and Judy Willard have cutting-edge vision that has taken them to the neediest part of Cleveland to reach those that have been abandoned by others,” Miller says. “The converted tavern, better known as the Tavernacle, is another chapter in bringing about community change and the gospel to the heart of the city.”
Missionary Church Planters & Developers Senior Director Darlene Robison also is a vocal supporter.“The Willard family have followed the incarnational model of Christ, living among the people with love, generosity, and consistency,” Robison says. “They have been good stewards of everything God has placed in their hands, and the gift of this wonderful building will expand their capacity to serve.”
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