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Columbus Dispatch, March 19, 2008: Christians urged to do more to aid the needy

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By Kelly Lecker

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Leaders of some of the area’s biggest churches say they want to redefine what it means to be a Christian.

They plan to hold a three-day justice revival next month to get people out of the pews and into the city to help reduce poverty and aid people in need.

More than 30 church leaders are involved in the event, and they expect up to 10,000 people to attend. They hope people will go out into the community and do everything from mentoring students to painting houses.

“Scripture tells us when much is given, much is required,” said Bishop Timothy Clarke, senior pastor at First Church of God. “God loves this city. And we have the opportunity to improve this city.”

Clarke said the event, which is scheduled for April 16-18 at the Vineyard Church of Columbus in Westerville, is “not your grandmother’s revival.” There will be song and fiery speeches, but leaders also will ask for a commitment to help the area’s needy.

Pastors will talk about the revival in their churches during the next few weeks, to focus attention on the service aspect of the event.

If it is successful, justice revivals will be held in other parts of the country, said Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a Washington-based Christian social-justice group.

Wallis called the revival a mix of Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. He said there already has been talk of similar events in Dallas and the Minneapolis area.

Billboards promoting the revival around the Columbus area read: “Love God? End Poverty.”

Wallis worked with Clarke and the Rev. Rich Nathan, senior pastor at Vineyard, to develop the idea. The event is being organized by a group representing many of the area’s evangelical and mainline churches, including the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Church leaders are working with Columbus City Schools and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, which will recruit volunteers at the revival for its mentoring program.

Nathan said the revival will first focus on bringing people to a personal relationship with Christ.

“We want that to move out into community transformation,” he said, decrying what he called a disconnect between the church and social justice.

“We’re here to say we want to bring these things together,” he said. “We also want to redefine what it means to be a Christian.”

Each night of the revival will feature speeches from notable pastors and community leaders.

The first night will focus on developing a relationship with Christ. On the second day, speakers will address the needs of the local community, from poverty to school performance. On the last night, Wallis and others will talk about helping people globally.

Church leaders hope to mobilize thousands of people on April 19, the day after the revival, to begin their community service.

Nathan said the work will continue for months and, he hopes, years after the revival. Small group meetings are planned in many churches to talk about how Christians can help reduce poverty in Columbus, and there are plans to work with food pantries, medical clinics and other organizations.

Clarke said Columbus was the ideal place to have the first justice revival.

“What will happen in this city will have a ripple effect in the state and the nation,” he said.

klecker@dispatch.com

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