We're excited to announce that H.O.P.E. Community Church will begin formal services in Allentown, PA later this summer. Emmanuel Suarez, a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and the Sovereign Grace Pastors College, has been diligently preparing to be sent from Grace Community Church with his family and church planting team. Their mission is to build a house of prayer and exultation by magnifying the supremacy of God's glory in Jesus Christ over all things for the joy of all peoples.
Emmanuel recently took some time to update us on this church plant so we can better support him, his family, and all those involved with our prayers.
First of all, when and where will your church begin?
Our hope is to begin formal services Sunday, July 7th, 2013. We will be meeting in a building in inner city Allentown that was formerly used for light manufacturing. However, the building requires a number of modifications to be made in order to bring it up to code, which could potentially impact our plans to launch July 7th. Either way, we are planning to do a children’s outreach program in the parking lot of the church building the first week in July that will officially introduce the church to the community.
What drew you to the idea of planting in Allentown?
The idea of planting in the inner city area of Allentown emerged out of my experience as a landlord in inner city Allentown. Being landlord in Allentown afforded me the opportunity to observe what life was like in this community. It did not take long to observe the economic, domestic and most importantly the spiritual crisis that many in this community lived with. As a result, I would often find myself praying for my tenants and being affected by the challenges that they faced daily. The other thing I observed was that there was hardly any kind of visible gospel presence in the community. So directing my tenants and other residents to a church close by in the community that was faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was always a challenge. There was clearly a need for a church that would not only meet in that community but that would joyfully embrace that community with the love of Christ.
What unique challenges and blessings do you think planting in Allentown will present?
There are both many challenges and blessings to planting in Allentown. However due to time and space I will not be able to indicate all. But let me highlight just a few. First of all, the economic crisis will clearly present a unique challenge of planting in Allentown. Because of the lack of a thriving job market, there is a large percentage of the population that live day by day trying to find odd jobs and/or have become heavily dependent on government subsidies. Therefore being able to financially sustain this work will present a unique challenge to the plant. Not to mention, the constraint on available time due to the need for many to work multiple jobs. Another challenge that planting in Allentown will present is that inner city Allentown unfortunately suffers from having a bad reputation. Therefore, maintaining a committed permanent presence in the community can be challenging since many are looking to move out of inner city Allentown into what they might consider to be greener pastures. For that same reason, attracting others to come into inner city Allentown will also be a challenge. Notwithstanding, there are also many unique blessings to planting in Allentown. The poverty and needs that are present in inner city Allentown provides a rich context for exciting gospel opportunities where the Holy Spirit can bring a mighty hope and consolation for the hopeless. Also, inner city Allentown is a city with a high population of children and youth. We have a wonderful opportunity to affect the up and coming generation with the grace and love of Jesus Christ and see a progressive and lasting change in a community that has seen much decline over the last several decades.
What do you think is the most important principle to keep in mind for "urban church planting"?
There are many biblical principles that are vital for any church whether they are “urban”, “suburban”, etc. So it’s difficult to pick the most important principle. But in our case, I would say that there are two controlling principles that the Holy Spirit seems to be driving deep in our hearts. The first principle is the principle of God’s glory. The Holy Spirit has been pressing on our hearts the supremacy of God’s glory in Jesus Christ over ALL things. We must be taught by the Spirit to genuinely desire God’s glory in Jesus Christ over all things. The danger of church planting in an urban poor community is that we can easily become overwhelmed in trying to meet the needs of the community. We can become totally motivated only by the desire to alleviate human suffering. Yet, there is something infinitely greater in value than satisfying human needs, that is, the glory of God displayed in Jesus Christ. In fact, man’s greatest need is never a job or housing, but to exult in the magnificence of the glory of Christ. If we are going to see a genuine revival in Allentown, we must learn to be radically governed by this principle in everything we do. The second principle is the principle of self-conscious dependence on God. The desperate needs in the community will make it virtually impossible for our church to spiritually coast on autopilot. The needs will demand an ever-growing self-conscious dependence on the power of God through the dynamic leading and ministry of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, we hope to cultivate the ministry of corporate prayer, worship and intercession as an expression of this fundamental principle of self-conscious dependence on God.
Can you tell us the story behind the name H.O.P.E. Community Church?
The story behind this name converges on several points. First of all, as I began to consider the prevailing mood and attitude that characterized many in inner city Allentown, the one word that kept coming to me was ‘hopelessness’. I even questioned some of my tenants and residents in the community to see what was their perception. Not surprisingly, many described life in inner city Allentown in terms of ‘hopelessness’. Eventually, it became evident to me that what Allentown needs most is the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ to undermine the prevailing hopelessness that many live under. The second point that converges on the name H.O.P.E. took place a couple of years ago. The Holy Spirit began to impress upon my heart his desire to raise a church in inner city Allentown with a particular focus on the ministry of corporate prayer, worship and intercession. The Holy Spirit used passages in Matt. 21:13, Isaiah 56:7 and 2 Chronicles 1-7 to press his intended desire for His house in my heart. Put it simply, He made it clear to me that His house is always called “a house of prayer”. In other words, the most fundamental activity in God’s House is devotion to prayer and seeking after God. Interestingly, several months ago, I began to ask the Lord, “Why is your house called a ‘house of prayer’?” Why not a house of praise or a house of preaching? Well, after a few days of meditating on Matthew 21:13 in search of an answer to that question, the Lord led me to read the next verse 14 – “And the blind and lame came to Him in the temple, and he healed them.” Immediately, I understood that God desires a house of prayer so that the broken and needy may come to him and be healed. Furthermore, in Isaiah 56:7, there is a promise given in relation to this House of Prayer. The Lord promises to “make them joyful in my house of prayer.” In other words, true prevailing prayer always leads to rejoicing, that is, Exultation. So the result of converging all these points together is the acronym H.O.P.E., which stands for “House Of Prayer and Exultation”.
When did you first feel called to ministry and church planting?
My sense of calling to the ministry began early in my Christian walk. First of all, instrumental in the development of this sense of call was cultivating regular devotion to Christ through prayer and the Word. It was in the secret place with God where my affections for Christ began to form, and Holy Spirit began to share Christ’s heart and love for His Bride, the Church. Secondly, my dad’s church was a church that really encouraged active participation in the public ministry of the word. As a result, I preached my first sermon 6 months after my conversion. Even though that sermon was totally devoid of the art of preaching, that experience had a profound effect on me. The Lord used that opportunity to heighten my sense of a call to the ministry that Tuesday night. Another significant moment in the development of my sense of calling came back in 1993. After a extended season of prayer and fasting for revival and a consuming longing for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his Church, the Lord gave me a promise one morning through Psalm 116:1 – “I love the Lord, because He hears My voice and my supplications.” When I read that verse, I can’t explain it but I had a deep conviction that the Lord had heard my cry, and that one day the Lord would grant me the privilege of being part of a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was during that season that the Lord began to clarify a call specifically to pastoral ministry. However, my sense for church planting in particular did not begin to form until a few years ago when I became a landlord in Allentown. The Lord used that experience to clearly direct his call particularly to raising up a church in inner city Allentown that would minister the gospel of Jesus Christ to the spiritually hungry and the destitute for the glory of his great name.
*Part 2 of this interview will we posted Friday.