IS GOD DONE WITH DETROIT?
By Tobin Perry
DETROIT—People use all kinds of words to describe the city of Detroit. Words like broken, wrecked and bankrupt have captured the vocabulary as American commentators talk about the Motor City. Yet Southern Baptist pastor and church planter Daryl Gaddy has another word for his beleaguered city—home.
Last July Detroit became the largest city in American history to file for bankruptcy. It was just the latest embarrassment in a decline that began in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1980s.
It’s easy to look at the Motor City and wonder if God has forgotten the engine that once played a dramatic role in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Arsenal of Democracy.” (Detroit’s auto industry once cranked out 91 percent of the helmets American soldiers wore during World War II and half of the war’s Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers.) But today more than half of the city’s 138 acres sit vacant. A million people have left the city since 1950.
Yet Gaddy believes there is reason for hope—no matter what the pundits say.
“I believe that the city has hope because of the Spirit of God and the Word of God,” he said. “The Bible says, ‘If my people who are called by name humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways.’ I believe that if we get back to the Word of God and loving the people of God, there will be a great revival in the city, and we will see a great return to those things that are beneficial for the people of that city.”
A new church for a new generation
That’s one of the reasons Gaddy and his wife, Daphne, started Victory Fellowship in 2006. The city needs new churches. Only 1 in 10 metro Detroiters claim to be an evangelical Christian. The city has one evangelical church for every 3,641 people and one Southern Baptist church for every 36,221 people in the metro area. Inside the city itself, those statistics are worse.
“There is a need for new churches, but not just new churches,” Gaddy said. “There is a need for churches that are serious about the Lord’s business. There is a need for churches who understand that we are the voice of God in the community, and that we’ve been sent to be servants in this world, to impact the lives of others with the gospel.”
Gaddy had been a pastor, serving on the staff of his father-in-law’s church when God began to nudge him toward starting his own church. He says he began to notice a generation of inner-city youth who weren’t attending traditional congregations. Noticing a little bit of himself in these youth, he began a small group Bible study in the bookstore his family owned.
Gaddy accepted Christ at a young age, but with no one to mentor him in the faith he drifted far from God. Drugs, alcohol, illicit relationships followed. Though in time he came back to God, Gaddy always carried the sting of not having a mentor to help him grow.
Through his own experience and by spending time around his children and their peers, Gaddy realized the need for mentoring—particularly among boys and young men—was a huge part of inner-city Detroit’s woes.
Even before starting Victory Fellowship in 2006, Gaddy had long been involved in mentoring youth—through a local scouting troupe, writing public school mentoring curriculum and one-on-one mentoring efforts. Through the new church plant he got even more involved, as it finally moved into an Episcopal church building on the corner of Detroit’s Frankfort and Lakewood Streets.
“We moved into that community, and we engaged a lot of rough behavior,” Gaddy said. “A lot of kids didn’t have parents and were living on the streets carrying guns and just conducting themselves in ways that were not going to be beneficial for their futures. We built relationships, loved on them, walked the streets with them and showed them genuine love, care and concern. We didn’t just preach to them. But letting them know that I’m you and you’re me. You are doing what I used to do. But guess what, where I am is where you can be also.”
A mentoring church
Victory Fellowship mentors young people both formally and informally. For example, in the spirit of Titus 2:3-5 the church’s senior women—called the Mature and Marvelous Saints—provide mentoring support for the young mothers. Its laymen ministry—called Brothers for Others—similarly mentors young men.
“That ministry helps men come together every other week on a Wednesday, and they talk about some of the issues that involve being a man and living as a man in the community, home and the church—how to not have to go to extremes as a man but to be the priest of your own home, how to care and love your family,” Gaddy said. “And also how to be a leader in the community.”
Knowing that many of the youth in the community struggle with basic job skills, Gaddy has also started a job-training program. The program not only helps prepare high school youth for their futures, but it also provides them with funds for their pockets now. For example, the youth run a silkscreen shop in the church that creates Christ-centered clothing they sell to their peers.
Through partnerships with the police department, the mayor’s office, the governor’s office and the public schools (among others), the church provides behavior counseling for youth, financial literacy programs for young mothers and a computer lab where students can finish their high school education without going to the campus. They’ve also partnered with the Navy to teach kids aviation.
“A lot of people would say that we couldn’t do what we’ve done because we have not had the resources financially,” Gaddy said. “But what I’ve found is that God will send you the partners at the right time, for the right reason. When you’re in for ministry and not serving for money, or manna, God will provide for the ministry.”
Gaddy believes the best may be yet to come for his hometown. With the city of Detroit being in economic and social flux, new opportunities for influencing the city’s future are emerging. Through Send North America and the partnership of Southern Baptists, Gaddy is praying for more churches to start in the city—and for the gospel to begin to take root in Motown.
“Those of us who recognize that the time is now, we must begin to take up the cross, walk forward and do the work of God,” Gaddy said. And so, I just say that, if there is a call of God, if there’s ever been a call of God, the time is now. God is calling for us to revitalize and to revive the Spirit of God in the city of Detroit.
“But it’s going to take some help. It’s going to take some folks who have the Word, and who have the heart, and who have the resources to come into the city, and to partner with those of us in the city. Many times people don’t know where to start. Well, there are people already here, who have a love for the people and for the Word. And so we need folk to come into the city of Detroit and partner with us.”
For more information about partnering in Detroit through Send North America, visit http://www.namb.net/Detroit.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.