Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Oct. 28, 2018
Abandoned church building gets new life
This afternoon at 3 o’clock I get to share in a rededication service for the New Walk of Life Church on Council Street in West Montgomery. The brick building housing the church is not new; it was “rebuilt” in 1954 by a congregation of 600 members that, years later, moved to a new location, leaving the building abandoned.
The vacant building, located in what is now one of Montgomery’s poorest neighborhoods, remained locked and unused for many decades. Then, in 2004, Ken Austin obeyed the nudging of the Lord to re-open the church and begin sharing the gospel with the poor in that community. The sign out front read, “New Walk of Life Church, Ken Austin, Pastor.”
Three years later Ken became friends with Bryan Kelly who had moved into the community to begin his Common Ground ministry to the poor. Initially Kelly worked out of the New Walk of Life Church during the week, using the church’s van to transport the children he was reaching with his ministry. Bryan and Ken became close friends, sharing a common vision to help the poor. Bryan was soon ordained a minister by Ken’s church. When Common Ground’s ministry became strong enough to purchase property nearby for its present headquarters, Bryan asked Ken to serve as its first Director of Operations. Now the busy pastor had two full-time jobs, both of which would help him fulfill his dream of revitalizing his poor community.
Old buildings require maintenance and Ken’s resources were meager. But year after year he continued to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God. One by one people were finding help and hope through faith in Christ. Last year the old roof began leaking. Rain damaged the front interior of the church, causing the bathrooms to collapse. Walls and floors were severely damaged. But Ken refused to give up. Blocking off the damaged area, Ken used the side door and continued offering the gospel to the poor in his impoverished community.
Ken’s friends at Saint James United Methodist Church came to the rescue and paid for the repair of the roof. But there were no funds available to replace the bathrooms, repair the walls or fix the gaping hole in the floor. Last August, Ken related to me, he felt defeated and saw no way the church could be restored. Weary of fighting what seemed a losing battle, he came to church one Sunday ready to quit. He was ready to resign, give up his dream and close the church.
“However,” Ken said, “God had another idea! During worship the Lord touched my heart. In his sermon the guest preacher told the story of Winston Churchill’s famous speech in which repeated five times the words, ‘Never give up!' In that moment, God shook me, reminding me that He never gives up on anybody and convincing me that I should not give up either. My faith was renewed and I resolved to keep on trusting Him! It was for me a new beginning!”
His faith was quickly rewarded. Within days a group of Ken’s friends met and resolved to raise the money to repair the building and replace the bathrooms. Some 40 to 50 people responded with gifts for the project and this afternoon many of them will gather to celebrate “what God has done!” One bonus of the renovation has been the completion of the Pathway House, a building next door that will be used for Sunday School classes and for adult education classes during weekdays. For years to come the revitalized church and the Pathway House will offer help and hope for a better life to an impoverished neighborhood in West Montgomery. Ken’s explanation is stirring: “We offer people a hand up, not a handout!” His heart’s desire is to help people liberate themselves from the bondage of poverty.
During the renovation of the church, a bell was discovered in the church tower. Though the bell has not been rung from many years, it still works; so Ken has asked my wife Dean to ring the bell this afternoon at the beginning of the rededication service. That will surely be a beautiful moment!
For more than a year all of us who have been working with Ken have been overwhelmed by the kindness of God. He has inspired so many people to step forward and lend a hand, and donate a lot of dollars, to give the New Walk of Life Church a new beginning. Our frequent response to God’s kindness has been the phrase: “God is at work!” Today we will gather and praise Him for all that He has done – and for all He is going to do – so that the people in this poor community can enjoy a vibrant church that connects them with His Son Jesus! + + +