Investing in the Neighborhood

Investing in the Neighborhood

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Billy L. Cockrum grew up two blocks north of the church he has pastored the past nine years, Passion Assembly of God. The church is tucked away in an economically challenged, less-traveled Springfield, Missouri, residential neighborhood.

Cockrum, 38, is the ninth of 10 children, he grew up in the same community where his Pentecostal parents and grandparents lived. Most of his siblings still live in the area.

God’s healing power became evident to Cockrum as he lay home sick as a 10-year-old boy, speckled with chickenpox for a week and delirious with fever. After he responded to a television evangelist’s urging for a little boy ill with chickenpox to place his hand on the TV set for prayer, Cockrum says his temperature returned to normal and all his blisters disappeared immediately. It wouldn’t be his only encounter with the Lord’s healing hand.

At 27, he contracted thyroid cancer from chemical exposure at a manufacturing plant, where he worked as a troubleshooter on an engineering team.

Just prior to the operation to remove tumors, Cockrum asked the surgeon if he could retain part of his thyroid in order to avoid taking medicine the rest of his life. The doctor responded that if the tumor fell off in his hand that would be possible. Cockrum didn’t realize that the physician was joking.

Before going under anesthesia, Cockrum prayed that God would let the tumor fall off. He says God spoke audibly to him, assuring that He would heal him of cancer and that he should pastor in the community where he grew up. When he awoke from surgery — with an incision on his neck almost ear to ear — Cockrum learned the tumor had indeed fallen off and the cancer had disappeared, much to the doctor’s astonishment.

Afterwards, Cockrum says he determined to obey God and to minister in the community where he always resided. Passion AG, then known as Forest Avenue Assembly, had fallen into disrepair, dwindled to a dozen members, and faced closure. Cockrum’s testimony convinced Southern Missouri District officials to keep it open. While in seventh grade, he attended a revival at what is now Passion AG, where an evangelist prophesied that Cockrum would become a pastor.

Cockrum has mechanical, electrical, and construction ability, aided by experience in maintenance at a diesel engine remanufacturer, plus working in maintenance at Central Bible College. He shut the church down for a month and led a transformative renovation effort that resulted in an attractive sanctuary, cozy café area, and well-appointed classrooms.

Today, around 100 people attend Passion AG, most of them nearby residents. Cockrum also is vice president of Heart of the West Side, the local neighborhood improvement association.

“This community needs a lot of help,” Cockrum says. “Some have been to prison for drug and alcohol abuse. Sometimes people call me before they call the cops.”

That included a situation in which Cockrum intervened with an intoxicated neighbor determined to drive. The man initially pointed a loaded gun at his own heart, but Cockrum pleaded with him to put down the revolver. When the pastor refused to relinquish the car keys, the drunken man said he would kill him. He shot at Cockrum three times at close range, but missed.

“Drugs and alcohol change a person,” Cockrum says. “But with God we still have hope.”

Christi Bass, 33, leads the addiction recovery group that meets at the church every Friday night. She started attending Passion AG Church in 2014 at the invitation of an aunt. Bass had lost custody of her two children eight months earlier because of her 15-year drug use.

“From day one I was welcomed at the church with open arms,” says Bass, who has regained custody of Abigail, 13, and Colton, 8. “Recovery ministry is part of the pastor’s heart, leading people into new life with Jesus.”

For Bass, losing her kids and going to jail provided the impetus to pursue sobriety in a different path at church.

“Until I found Jesus, I thought I would always use drugs,” says Bass, who manages a sandwich restaurant. “I want people to know the truth: recovery is available through Jesus.”

Cockrum and his wife, Lisa, have been married 18 years and have two children, Faith Splendor, 14, and Gabriel Christian, 12. Although many of the parishioners are poor, the church is debt-free. Cockrum is committed to investing in those who live nearby.

“These people who come here mean everything to me,” says Cockrum, who has completed studies through the district’s School of Ministry and Global University. “God has supplied all our needs.”

Passion Assembly of God recently completed quarterly cohorts of the Acts 2 Journey designed to help local church leaders better impact their vicinity.

“Having the opportunity to be a part of the Acts 2 Journey has helped us as a team to really narrow down what really matters to God about the vision He has given us,” Cockrum says.

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