Nine years or so ago, I began listening to podcasts recorded by David Platt. Shortly thereafter, my wife, Dimity, and our three then high school age children began doing double duty. We would attend Briarwood Presbyterian Church (where we had been members for years) on Sunday mornings and Brook Hills on Sunday evenings.
The more we attended Brook Hills, the more uncomfortable I became. God was wrestling me to the ground. Dimity and I had spent all of our married life engaged in the work of the church here in Birmingham, and we had engaged in global missions for years. But God was challenging me. He made it clear that He required more of me than serving in church leadership and going on global mission trips three or four weeks a year. Almost imperceptibly, I had compartmentalized my faith over the years.
God was challenging me to obey His command to care for the materially poor, widows, and orphans – those "less fortunate," especially those here in Birmingham. I realized through a painful process that I was simply ignoring a number of the commands clearly contained in Scripture.
So, Dimity and I went to meet with Keith Stanley. We shared with him our hearts to respond to Jesus‘ commands – all of them. Keith graciously welcomed us and heard our story.
Eventually, Keith replied, "Well, we just began a ministry to an impoverished community here in Birmingham that you might have a heart for. You probably never heard of this place, but it is located in the Woodlawn area in a community called Gate City."
I think that I laughed. I know that my heart jumped in my chest. What Keith could not know was that I had grown up less than a half mile from Gate City and the Marks Village housing project where Brook Hills had started its work. Two of my best friends from childhood lived in the Marks Village housing project. One of them is now dead, killed as he attempted to rob a local residence. The other is serving life in an Alabama state penitentiary for repeated drug offenses. It is only by the grace of God that I did not join them.
So here I was – God had me pinned to the mat. I could do nothing but obey and submit.
I had traveled to Africa with Wales Goebel to share the gospel for almost 10 years, literally flying over Marks Village on my way out of Birmingham. Now, He was bringing me full circle, to serve Him in my own backyard. There was no denying God's hand. Dimity, my children, and I took a deep breath and jumped.
We joined Teresa, Jessie, Halie, Brenda, Karen, and a number of others from Brook Hills at the Bible Club hosted by Ambassador for Christ Church in Gate City. We began to spend our Sunday afternoons and evenings engaged in wild, chaotic, exhausting, humbling, beautiful service to the children and families living in Marks Village.
We were hooked. We fell in love with Charles and Charlesia (a difficult and yet wonderful brother and sister), “the Licias” (Felicia, Delicia, and Alicia), and others who we came to look forward to spending time with each Sunday. We also began to call the team of volunteers family. Our family. This was clearly a group of people who loved Jesus and loved sharing what He had done for them on the cross with others who were materially less fortunate.
Very quickly, God began to impress upon a number of us that once a week was not enough. We were spending three hours a week basking in the majesty of the gospel with these kids and sending them back out into utter darkness. Where gunshots rather than the melody of the ice cream truck rang in the streets. Where stomachs were often empty. Where trauma in the form of chronic poverty, neglect, and abuse was the norm.
God was forming Oak Tree Ministries (OTM). Like-minded volunteers began to meet and talk about what God was calling us to do. We met with Keith Stanley and received the blessing of Brook Hills to move forward. We stepped out. OTM was born.
OTM as a formal ministry is now almost three years old. During that time, we have laughed, cried, and shouted in both joy and frustration. Through it all, we have been sustained by the power of a triune God. He is our rock, our fortress, and the horn of our salvation. He has given us a facility, five faithful staff members, and a host of beautiful volunteers from a number of different churches throughout Birmingham. He has given us the Bible Club, after school programs for the children, a mercy ministry, and a women's fellowship. We now walk alongside the people of Marks Village in some way every day of the week.
We pray that our meager efforts bring God glory and that He would see fit to raise up for Himself oaks of righteousness who will renew the ruined city that has been devastated for generations.
So, I must offer a word of challenge. We do not do good works to be saved. All our righteousness is but filthy rags. However, we do good works out of a profound gratitude that we have been saved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The holy, just, and gracious Creator of the universe loved us enough to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him for an eternity through our faith in Jesus Christ. What is our response to that fact? Please do not lull yourself into a complacent, compartmentalized faith as I did. Christ must be the Lord of every aspect of our lives. We prove that by our actions. We must get out of our comfort zones and go share with someone what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Christ commands it.
Brook Hills offers us a number of wonderful local opportunities to share Jesus Christ with someone every day of the week. Pray, pick one, and step out in faith and obedience. Trust the Holy Spirit to empower you with the tools you will need to bring God glory. He who promised is faithful.
Alex and Dimity Leath, along with several others, formed the Bible club that became Oak Tree Ministries in 2013. OTM is a ministry partner of Brook Hills and Love Oliver. To learn more about how to get involved, visit oaktreeministries.org.