“Memphis is a wonderful city, but it has a lot of poverty,” says Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. “Our inner city neighborhoods need a lot of help. 

“One day, God really spoke to me as I read Jeremiah 29:7—‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ I figured if the Jews in exile could love Babylon, we could love Memphis.”

In response to this word from the Lord, the church, under Gaines’ leadership, launched “Bellevue Loves Memphis,” a program whereby church members show Jesus’ love to their city by meeting the practical needs of its residents. Beginning in 2007, Bellevue set aside one Saturday every quarter as a workday on which members could participate in service projects across the city. 

These projects include repairing football fields, redecorating teacher’s lounges, and building playgrounds for inner city schools. The church has also participated in school landscaping projects, reading camps, community block parties, and multiple prayer projects.

In addition, the church serves other inner city churches with church improvement projects, such as painting, landscaping and cleaning. They offer multiple sports camps, as well.

“The bottom line is this: God loves all the people in every city,” says Gaines, a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary. “If we love Him, we must love them.”

On one of these workdays, the church sent several dozen volunteers to an inner city elementary school where Gaines’ daughter worked as a teacher. The church provided a free hot dog and hamburger luncheon for all the students and their parents. Gaines’ wife Donna and others led an “Arise2Read” training session, helping parents learn how to teach their elementary children how to read. Many of the volunteers worked outside, landscaping the grounds of the school. Others worked inside, cleaning and painting the rooms. 

Hundreds of parents and children attended. Inflatable games were available outside for the children to play on. The church also deployed evangelists, who walked around and shared the Gospel throughout the event. Several people made professions of faith as a result, and nearby churches committed to follow up with those who prayed to receive Christ.

This one example is indicative of what God has accomplished through Bellevue’s efforts in the 10 years since “Bellevue Loves Memphis” began. The church has completed more than 1,200 projects on 40 workdays, with more than a thousand church members serving on each of these days, and over 600 people have come to faith in Christ as a result. 

“We constantly remind our people that we are not doing these service projects just to make Memphis a better place from which to go to hell,” Gaines says. “Rather, every project has as its supreme goal to share the Gospel with lost people and to lead someone to repent of his sins, believe savingly in Jesus, and receive Him as Savior and Lord. 

“We constantly remind our people that they are not just in a neighborhood to improve the neighborhood, but to expand the Kingdom of God by sharing the Gospel and winning people to Christ. As a result, our people serve, but they also share the Gospel. Service and evangelism are a powerful combination!”

Read more about Gaines’ ministry, as well as other evangelistic ministries of Southwestern graduates, in the summer 2018 issue of Southwestern News, available online here.