Piercing Portsmouth’s Darkness

Last night, A&Es Intervention focused on my hometown of Portsmouth.  It was jarring.  Especially for those who remember what the town once was. 

In the early and mid-1970s, the small city boasted near full-employment for its nearly 40,000 residents who lived and played on the banks of the Ohio River.  The heaving smoke stacks and busy sidewalks outside of locally owned businesses were signs of the healthy tax base that paid for good schools and the low crime rate that led few to lock their doors at night. 

Yet, during the hard recession of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, the major employers in Portsmouth began to close their doors one by one.  Over the ensuing decades, the citizens of the once thriving river city regularly expressed hope on a daily basis for an industrial resurrection over coffee in the morning and beer by night.

By 2000, Portsmouth was a city in rapid decline.  Population fell to 22,000, unemployment rose steadily and illiteracy rates nearly topped state surveys.  Worst of all, the cries of the depressed drew drug dealers from all over the northeast. According to a friend in a federal prosecutor’s office, an organized crime syndicate in Detroit took notice of the drug market in Appalachia in the late 1990’s and began to corner the market through marked violence.  Local news agencies ran story after story about execution style killings in and around southern Ohio and northwestern West Virginia between 2001 and 2004.  The Detroit mob walled off Portsmouth as its own and crack, heroin and meth poured in with all of the crime that accompanies an influx of narcotics.

And then the pill mills began to open.  These “medical professionals” promise to supply you with as much Oxycontin as you can buy under the guise of treating “chronic pain.”     

A once quiet town now witnesses armed robberies and home invasions on a steady basis.  Portsmouth now has one of the highest crime rates per capita in the state of Ohio.  The older citizens no longer lament the loss of the factories as much as they grieve the loss of the days when they could live without fear. 

It is here that a small group of us prayerfully decided in 2008 to plant a church and within a year Revolution Church launched.  Revolution is a not a traditional congregation to be sure.  Our building looks more like a club than a church, I preach in a non-traditional way and the worship music is pretty loud but that’s not what really makes us different.  The group God brought together to plant Revolution committed themselves to lead a church that existed for the community rather than itself. 

I don’t say this to brag…if it were solely up to me, I would be sitting in a McChurch somewhere in a cozy suburb close to real Starbucks but those around me, like Justin Clark and Ryan Rolfe tell me on a regular basis that God has other plans.

So, Revolution helps feed the poor on Friday evenings, sacrificially gives goods away to those in treatment programs every year at “Free Market,” and buys Christmas gifts for the children of those men and women in rehabs every holiday season as part of our Christmas Conspiracy Project.  But last year, God began to kick us around to let us know that this was not nearly enough.

After a lot of prayer and a little research (probably not enough of either), the leadership team at Revolution is preparing to launch a re-neighboring ministry for the east end of Portsmouth, which is one of the areas hardest hit by the deluge of narcotics.    

Revolution recently purchaseda house in the east end and drafted three young men to move in to it and begin reaching out to those in the neighborhood who are struggling with addiction.  Members of Revolution will volunteer in shifts to assist them.  The men and women of Revolution will establish relationships with those who haunt the streets and alleys of Portsmouth, pray with them and for them in the hopes of helping to get them off the streets and into treatment.  The ministry launches on Good Friday.

The Revolution House is a beach head in the war against the darkness that has descended upon Portsmouth.  We hope and pray that it is the first house of many for those who have engaging in urban re-neighboring ministries that it takes several homes to shift the balance of power in an area.   

We ask for everyone’s help and especially their prayers.  We believe this is not just an economic issue or a law enforcement issue but a spiritual battle.  It is time for all of God’s people to stop lamenting the past and fight the present darkness.

 As one pastor stated, “Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.”