West End Community Church

Start a Church, Stop Bullets

Cranston Street takes you through the West End of Providence, Rhode Island. There’s a brick building a few miles down on the left, next to a check-cashing store. Across from it is a mammoth castle with no signage. There’s scaffolding up and down the stone exterior, but it seems construction has been abandoned. Directly across from the castle, behind the brick building, is a block of dilapidated houses. The old New England homes are big, but they now house multiple families. Boarded up windows line the trash-ridden side streets. 

Inside the brick building are worn wooden floors, old stained-glass windows–one with a bullet hole–and about 50 chairs. There’s a table in the back with carafes of coffee and hot water for cocoa. Pastor John Ames is rehearsing for worship. He smiles when we walk in. He finishes singing “Oh how Jesus loves me” and takes a step down off the small stage to welcome us. This is West End Community Church.

As a Converge missionary kid, John thought God had used up his ministry quota. When he was 2 years old, he moved to France with his parents for language school. Once they were deployed to the Ivory Coast, they lived and worked with another missionary family. At 18 he came back to the States for college in Indiana. After being at a school in Ivory Coast with 60 different nationalities represented, Indiana’s corn fields and NASCAR were the ultimate culture shock. While Ames adjusted into American culture, he declared his major in communications.

“I just wanted to be a journalist,” John said. “I was a missionary kid, so I didn’t need to worry about being called into ministry. I wanted to travel the world, dodge bullets and change people’s lives.”

That changed in his third year of college. John notes many missionary kids follow their parents into ministry. He didn’t think he would be one of them, but when he lost his passion for journalism, he took his faith more seriously. John credits a friend in his dorm who asked him to attend chapel and small groups.

“Something just clicked and I started running hard after the Lord,” John said. “There was a fire in me, and I felt the call to ministry. I started researching seminaries.”

After he finished his undergraduate degree, he headed to Boston. Unsure of what God wanted him to do in ministry, he began attending all of the church services he could. He also chose to continue his education while he figured out God’s leading. At a Bible study he met a girl named Jenny. They began dating and, as a couple, prayed about their future. Together they attended a missions conference in 2009. That’s when it changed.

“I had an undeniable call to plant a church in the city of Providence,” he said.

His family goes back generations in New England, so Rhode Island seemed a natural fit. Providence also happens to be a diverse community, which he says he’s comfortable with. Growing up in Africa has given him an edge in two different ways: securing the brick building from a Liberian church and helping youth in tough situations.

Niko is a greeter at WECC. He also helps bring people from the nursing home to Sunday services. He sets up and tears down equipment. He’s always ready to lend a helping hand. The Ames met Niko when he was invovled in the wrong kind of street activities. John decided to try and help Niko get a job, while also discipling him. He went with him to visit employers and helped him fill out applications, but John discovered people didn’t want to hire Niko.

“It didn’t matter he had a resume, a cover letter, a buttoned-up shirt on and a pastor standing next to him,” John said. “I realized Niko was getting rejected over and over again because of his skin color and his past.”

Frustration and anger led John to pray to find Niko a job. He was worried Niko would go back to dealing if he couldn’t find the teenager something. God came through in a big way–John received a donation and hired Niko at the church.

“The people at Homeboy Industries are known for using the phrase, ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job,’” John said. “We are currently looking at opening a coffee shop to try and hire youth who are in a similar situation as Niko.”

The church service on Sunday was different than I expected. When John stepped down to welcome us, he warned my husband and I that there would be a lot of distractions: opening and closing doors, people getting up in the middle of service. He wasn’t kidding. The front door of the church stayed open for most of the service. Cars whizzing by, people talking, hearing stroller wheels grinding against the concrete sidewalk–it was all part of the experience. I even caught a conversation between two women, “If that [expletive] ever talks to me again…” while sitting in church. To say the contrast was stark between the words we were singing and what was going on outside the doors is an understatement. 

At one point in the service, John asked people to share what God had done in their lives that week. Almost every person gave a short testimony of how God helped them. Diana, from her spot in the front row, seated in her wheelchair, simply thanked God for her life. John also had different people pray for community leaders in Providence, and for the high school. The people who prayed weren’t pastors or clergymen; they were old, young, in wheelchairs, self-described as mentally ill, young girls whose clothes were too small. They were fathers and mothers. They were the people of God, in this small brick building, with worn wooden floors and old stained-glass windows.  

John and his team are going to keep stopping bullets.

  • © Copyright 2016

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  • 150 Cook Hill Road
  • Cheshire, CT 06410
    Point - Winter 2016

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