Doug and I were at a prayer meeting a few nights ago, focusing on the upcoming outdoor service to be held by our church at the local plaza in our neighborhood. As we prayed, I thought about how the Emmanuel Gospel Center, where we lived in an apartment above the chapel, had been located right where the plaza is now. The whole neighborhood was demolished and rebuilt in the 70s, but I still remember the original streets and buildings that existed in 1964.
The very place where the singers and speakers would now stand to lift up songs of praise and words of hope was Fabin Street Alley. Back then, those who were “under the influence” would sit and spew out ragtime stories to each other in this alley. We could usually hear them in the wee hours of the night as they crashed their bottles against our backyard cement wall.
Somehow, realizing that the service would be held in the same spot as the old “broken glass alley” was very meaningful to me – it demonstrated redemption! South End Church, which communicates God’s good news to regular folks, was eventually born in the Center’s chapel there on W. Dedham Street, and has been giving out the message of redemption to hurting people ever since.
I was also reminded of the “Five-Mile Prayer” that was being lifted up in 1964 – a prayer that every person in the radius of five miles would have the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of God’s love. And that this would then extend out to the next five miles, and the five after that, in ever expanding concentric rings. Back then, we built a portable stage in the Center’s backyard from which churches all throughout Boston’s “five mile radius” preached the message. In a sense, the Gospel Center is still a staging platform for churches to do the work of the ministry.
The Five-Mile Prayer must begin somewhere and can begin anywhere, even in your own backyard. It is still being answered today. The message of God’s love is reaching out and redeeming hurting people in the “broken-glass alleys” of our world. Those being changed by Jesus are his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV).
The personal implications of Acts 1:8 will vary for each of us. I personally think of my “Jerusalem” as Boston’s South End and my “Judea” as other neighborhoods of the city. My “Samaria” is any place I don’t feel comfortable in, and believe me, there are quite a few!
In this prayer meeting, I joined others in my church in thanking God for all He has done. We earnestly prayed for friends and neighbors who were struggling, that they would hear and respond to God’s redeeming love. As we work and serve in ministry, let none of us forget about those who struggle in the “broken glass alleys” behind our own backyards, in our “Jerusalems,” “Judeas,” and “Samarias.”