The STORY OF OAK CHURCH
I grew up in the inner city of Paterson, the 3rd most dangerous city in the state of New Jersey. Though most people were desperate to get out, I felt a burden for my city. While others gave in to the temptations and struggles of this city--drugs, gang activity, violence, fatherlessness, etc.--Jesus kept me from those things. I saw what people had to endure and I wanted to change it. I did not have the words to explain it then, but I was searching for a Savior and redemption.
My longing only increased with my age and by my junior year in High School, I knew that Jesus was calling me, but I wasn’t sure what that would look like. However, in my sophomore year of college, Jesus made it clearer. The Lord said, “I am sending you away into the desert like I did Moses, then I will bring you back for a great work in Paterson.” This word from God connected with everything within my being. However, I had to wait for the Lord’s timing.
Through the following years, I graduated college in Missouri, met my wife, had kids, and began building a foundation for my family. The Lord led us to Hope Church while we were dating in 2006 and we remained at this church for 11 years. In 2013, I became the associate Youth Pastor and spent the next 3 years on staff growing in my role. Then when my wife and I were attending a conference for Youth Pastors in Colorado Springs, CO, the Lord began to call me. He said, “I am beckoning you to the water where I am.” The next couple of weeks through prayer and counsel, I understood He was asking me to prepare for the next step in Paterson. It was time.
As I began to endeavor on what we would be the identity of this church plant, a scripture had been burning in my heart for some time.
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
These were the words spoken by Jesus at the time He began his ministry. He declared what He had come to do and accomplish. However, I believe this is a mission statement for the people of God as well. 2 Corinthians 5 puts it like this:
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus has given us this ministry to deliver, to persuade, to implore, to announce, and to proclaim what He has already done. His desire for us to become the righteousness of God through His Son...
Isaiah 61:1-4 continued...
...They will be called OAKS of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
We want to be this planting of the Lord to show the city of Paterson the glory of the one who plants.
4 They will REBUILD the ancient ruins and RESTORE the places long devastated; they will RENEW the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
We want to rebuild what has been broken. Destroy patterns that have waged war on this city and left it destitute. Jesus is the answer to restoring things thought to be in ruins or devastated beyond repair.
During my college years, I would travel from Missouri to Paterson, NJ during school breaks. On one of the breaks, I drove through the 4th Ward of Paterson, one of the tougher areas of the city. As I drove through, I saw people addicted to drugs on the corners, struggling to walk. I saw abandoned buildings that had now become drug houses. I saw young men on the corners selling drugs, that were destroying mothers and fathers. As I drove through, the Lord whispered to me, “These are my people…”. He didn’t say anything else, but I understood. The great love He had for them was exploding in me, as tears streamed down my eyes. The message He repeated in Luke 4 from Isaiah 61 is still for them today. He is excellent at seeing us beyond where we are, He can see us free from our captives, free from chains, clothed in garments he has given instead of despair. We are being planted to proclaim and do the same.