Fresno Westside Joins Partnership for a Safe Community
On Sabbath morning, May 15, the street in front of the Fresno Westside church was filled with activity. Neighborhood residents explored the more than 30 health education and services booths while a praise band performed.
“Partnering with city officials, other denominations and community organizations allows our church members to reach out and heal,” said Pastor Earl Canson about Fresno’s Safe Community Partnership Strategy Initiative.
Bible stories and activities for children, a prayer booth, a one-quarter scaled exhibit of the Old Testament Tabernacle were added to the many health fair offerings. Food bags and clothing give-a-ways and plenty of good hot food kept the neighbors coming.
Inside the cool sanctuary, neighbors could attend a special morning Sabbath school program. Canson presented a short message for the crowd from the bandstand while church members moved to their assigned places.
The event, “Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life,” was sponsored by the church, West Care California and the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Initiative.
“It will take God’s people to make a difference in broken neighborhoods,” Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin told the crowd. “It is such a pleasure to work with people like you.” Acknowledging that tough times are around the corner, Swearengin shared her vision of a community transformed as a “testimony of how God can intervene in a city. He is faithful."
“Gangs are out to destroy America,” Police Chief Jerry Dyer said. “For far too long we have looked at government for answers. The church comes in to play when Jesus and church gets involved with youth.”
At the end of 2008, Fresno had the lowest crime rate since 1973; gang prevention and eradication continues to be a high priority. Currently Fresno County is home to 141 validated gangs with approximately 24,000 members. Eighty-five percent live in Fresno.
Well-known in the community, Westside church members have served their neighborhood for years. At 7:30 a.m. every Sabbath, a free breakfast is available in the fellowship hall. They host summer youth camps, parenting classes, individual family support, personal Bible studies and more.
“Our church is right in the middle of the area. This let’s people know who Adventists are and gives us credibility by demonstrating interest in the needs of the families around us,” says Wanda Flowers, local church elder.
Two weeks after the event, 1,000 tons of food was distributed from the church through their food bank partnership.
“The answer for our [neighborhood] families is to turn their lives over to Jesus,” Canson says. Serving others is the first step.