Couple Pours God’s Love into Notorious Bronx Neighborhood
Pastors Reggie and Ibelsa Stutzman define outreach unconventionally at Real Life Church (RLC) in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx, in New York City.
“We show the gospel and go to where people are,” Reggie says. The Stutzmans see God’s unconditional love and grace poured out upon the forgotten and marginalized almost every day.
A hub for prostitution, drug deals, and gangs, Hunts Point is noted for the highest violent crime, poverty and unemployment rates in the largest city in the U.S.
Before planting RLC, Reggie gained serious street credentials working for the New York School of Urban Ministry for three years and the Bowery Mission for a decade.
“God put a love for the city in my heart and I learned to love people in their mess,” he says.
RLC stresses creative outreaches. Opening in 2010, the ministry began with a Thanksgiving service and dinner feeding 500. An annual event now, it has since touched thousands of needy families with food and clothing. For the past three summers, teams from Lakeshore Assembly of God in Rockwall, Texas, helped the church conduct outdoor Vacation Bible Schools ministering to 300 to 500 children each time. In 2013 and 2014, Lakeshore supplied cattle feeding troughs which served as baptismal tanks for 50 to 60 people.
Two years ago, the Stutzmans noticed Muslims praying publically. Sensing God’s conviction, they received a municipal permit to organize a prayer time on Hunts Point Avenue where 300 people kneeled on the street for one hour. They repeated the event in October 2014 with 200 people.
“People passing by felt the Holy Spirit and some accepted Christ as Savior,” Ibelsa recalls.
Adopting individual apartment buildings is another fresh strategy. The structures usually are run-down, smelly, covered with graffiti, and headquarters for gangs. Eschewing warnings about potential violence, RLC teams provide food, prayer, play worship music, share testimonies, and even offer maintenance help. In December 2014, four women from North Carolina distributed clothing and 200 treasure boxes containing toys and trinkets to children at one location.
“God is bringing light into darkness,” Reggie says. “During one building outreach 21 people accepted the Lord.”
When weather and safety conditions permit, Ibelsa and women from the church visit street prostitutes who are flagging down cars on busy avenues. Often they accept prayer.
“I see the hopelessness in their eyes and want to give them the hope of Christ,” Ibelsa says. “I tell them they are not alone and the Lord wants to meet them where they are.”
Labeled “A Church Without Walls,” RLC’s congregation of 40 to 50 attendees meets in the Hunts Point Recreation Center. However, its next phase is acquiring a permanent home. To this end, the church is eyeing a former strip club building available for about $1 million. The Stutzmans are holding out for a miracle.