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Johnny 4

Johnny Jones, 13 February 2004

Last week I told you a little about my post-college work in Connecticut (of all places!), where Chip and I met and married. I couldn't leave this phase of our lives without telling you a little more about what we did.

In 1966, the Exodus movement was forming within the Church of Christ. Here was the plan: There was a church in New York City, in Manhattan. But other places were seen as mission areas, surrounding commuter towns on Long Island, in Connecticut, in New Jersey. The idea was to encompass New York City with churches, and spread the gospel to this densely populated area which had few Churches of Christ. The concept was, rather than send a single missionary family, to send an entire church. People established in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, made a commitment to live in the Northeast for a time. Others of us came straight from college or business school.

Church was exceptional. We had social workers, teachers, engineers, card-punch operators, all of them more dedicated than the average church-goer. There was always something to do and someone to do it with, from plays in the City to races in Limerock.

But we weren't there just to enjoy the area. Our leadership met with the city of Stamford to try to become established in ministry.

One of the opportunities was in the Southeast Quadrant, where poor housing (some people called them "slums") was being torn down in the name of Urban Renewal.

I'd never seen anything like the apartments. Flies buzzed and roaches crawled among the filth on the landings in some buildings, even when there was snow on the ground. Children ate from the pot of beans simmering on the stove, and listened to the men gathered all day around the liquor store, near the vacant lots filled with broken glass. Since the area was all going to be torn down, few people went to much effort to fix things up.

The City asked us to keep an old church that had been converted into a neighborhood center open two nights a week. Sunrise Center. The mothers from the neighborhood would keep it open another two nights, and a Presbyterian church the last two, so that the children had somewhere to go six nights a week.

That didn't last long. First the Presbyterians dropped out, then the mothers. But that summer a Tennessee church sponsored two of us to keep the center open during the day while we were out of school, and our church sent some of the children to church camp.

Jack and I supervised Youth Corps workers whose pay was higher than ours, and we cleaned up the neighborhood and sponsored a Talent Show. I think that's when we fell in love with the children. When the kids came back from church camp saying, "We want to know more about Jesus!" we knew we had to start a Sunday school.

We had been a little scared when we started, a few whites in the midst of an African-American area. But the neighborhood started to recognize us, and we got to be known and accepted, and we felt comfortable. It was like a small town; people would smile and wave to us. We were easy to spot, with children swarming around us, vying for attention. Chip's signature gold hat never stayed on his head very long; one of the boys always ended up proudly wearing it.

When we started our Sunday School, the City let us have a building scheduled for demolition until we could find something else. The first Sunday we moved hammers and awls and nails aside, and there weren't very many chairs. But that didn't matter. We stood and sang and prayed (with our eyes open!) and told a Bible story. And it was fun. We were young, and the children were sweet. So sweet. Mostly dirty and disheveled, but precious in the eyes of the Lord, and in our eyes, too. God had placed these children in our hearts, and placed us in theirs. Amazing grace!