Theology in the Real World: Reaching the Underserved with the Gospel
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the Summer 2010 edition of the Southwestern News. To view the magazine online, visit www.swbts.edu/swnews.
When Blayne Owens signed up for a one-year apprenticeship with a pastor in Houston, he never imagined it would lead to playing basketball and sharing the Gospel with drug dealers. However, when given the opportunity to work with people at a mission in Houston’s notorious Fifth Ward, a district riddled with poverty, drug abuse, and criminal activity, Owens rose to the challenge.
“The purpose of the apprenticeship is to take someone from the classroom who is getting a theological education, who is called to be a pastor and has that God-placed call and desire in his heart and to get him from the head knowledge in the classroom to the experiential knowledge outside in the real world,” Owens, a student in the College at Southwestern, says.
The apprenticeship, which Owens describes as six years of experience wrapped in one, includes accompanying the pastor on pastoral visits and meetings, participating in church mission trips, serving in assorted ministries at the church, and preaching and teaching in various venues. Owens expected all of this when he began the internship in the fall of 2009, but when Northeast Houston Baptist Church was blessed with the opportunity to acquire a mission close to the heart of the city, his eyes were opened to a new aspect of the real world he is called to reach.
Farrington Mission sits along U.S. Highway 59, just north of the I-610 loop around Houston. An estimated 10,000 people live within a one-mile radius of the mission, and the area boasts an eclectic mix of residents: elderly couples rooted in the community, families striving to survive and escape to a better life, and those struggling in poverty and debauchery. During a police ride-along, Owens saw brothels, drug dealers, crack houses, and transvestite prostitutes within walking distance of the mission.
Since January, Owens has joined men from the church as they open the mission for basketball outreach to young men in the community. They shoot hoops in the gym for a while and then break for a time of Bible study before continuing to play.
“It’s a way to go out there and create some camaraderie for the purpose of sharing the Gospel and winning them to Jesus,” Owens says.
Owens’ eyes were opened to the desperate need for the Gospel one night when they were taking prayer requests.
“The guys spoke up and said, ‘You know José who was here last week? He got shot, and he’s dead. His funeral was yesterday, so we need to pray for his family,’ ” Owens recalls.
“It’s something that’s normal down there. The guys didn’t really blink at it, but for us, it was shocking. It really gives us a sense of urgency.”
Most of the guys’ hearts are as hard as the concrete they dribble on when it comes to the Gospel, yet Owens continues to share with them. One man was recently released from prison and wants to follow Christ. Owens and others have encouraged and discipled him in what a biblical marriage looks like and what it means to live the Christian life.
In addition to the weekly basketball outreach, Owens occasionally serves in the mission’s food pantry and looks for ways to share the Gospel with those who are picking up food for their families. Similar to Jesus’ approach with the woman at the well in John 4, he likes to transition the conversation from physical to spiritual needs.
Owens asks how long the food they are getting will last them and follows their answer with, “Wouldn’t it be great to have food that lasts us forever?” This simple statement helps him turn the conversation toward their need for a Savior. Some are receptive, while others simply want the food.
“This has been a phenomenal opportunity to get me out with unchurched people who have no interest in what you’re saying about God and the Bible,” Owens says. “I’m learning how to begin conversations about God and about salvation. It’s also helped me understand the importance of the local church.”
Owens has gained an incredible amount of experience through these outreach opportunities and spiritual conversations at Farrington Mission, and he believes his studies in the College at Southwestern have helped prepare him for such ministry.
“It is the History of Ideas degree applied to real life,” Owens says. “The way the History of Ideas is set up gives you insight into how people think and teaches you to think.”
Because the undergraduate program at Southwestern explores worldviews and equips students to defend a Christian worldview, Owens feels confident discussing spiritual matters with people from all walks of life. Coupling this knowledge with a genuine spirit and compassion, Owens encourages others to reach out to underserved communities.