Apartment ministry is a hard mission field, so when God very obviously opened up opportunities at an apartment complex on Jacksonville’s west side, JimBo Stewart, lead pastor of what is now Redemption Church, didn’t hesitate.
Stewart moved to Florida from New Orleans to pastor what was then known as the Hyde Park campus of Hibernia Baptist Church in Northeast Florida. Before the church even launched, JimBo received a call from a nearby property investor who was interested in a partnership. As one of five investors in an apartment in the area, the man hoped to turn the place around. The Jacksonville apartment complex that in the 1970s had an upscale feel to it was now a place the police were called to about six times a day.
“The guy said, ‘Churches have been in the community changing business longer than apartment owners have, so what can you do?’” JimBo recalled.
It was a good question, and one to which he didn’t immediately know the answer. Having just arrived in town and before the church campus’ official launch, JimBo didn’t know what resources were available to him—if any at all. When he expressed his apprehension, the investor’s response changed everything.
“What do you need?”
So JimBo began asking. He wanted to throw a block party to get to know the residents, so the investor paid for it and had employees serve as volunteers. When JimBo asked for a free apartment in order for a missionary family to live and minister there, he got that, too. Stewart said the investors were fine with whatever the church did as long as it was fun and beneficial to the residents.
But eventually that changed, and the investor’s partners decided they didn’t like the church’s involvement. Doors of opportunity began rapidly closing, and the investor who had invited JimBo into the apartment complex moved away and the property was sold.
The excitement of the ministry at the apartment complex had caused the church to grow in numbers, but those numbers dwindled as the partnership ended. The losses combined to create a financial burden for the church.
In the aftermath, JimBo agonized over the church’s 2017 budget.
“We were going to be short on a bare bones budget,” he said.
$20,000 short, to be exact.
JimBo said he did the only thing he could do—he prayed about it. As he did, he began to feel a peace about going forward and presenting a budget that was $20,000 short.
So he wasn’t too surprised when the budget was overwhelmingly approved by his own church’s leadership and that of Hibernia.
“I had peace that God would take care of us,” he said.
And, of course, He did.
Last December, Stewart received a letter from his old friend the property investor. The man expressed his regret over how things had turned out at the apartment complex.
“My partners never shared our vision so the least I could do was make them share their wallets,” the investor wrote to JimBo.
Accompanying the letter was a check for $25,000 that came from the proceeds of the sale of the apartment.
For JimBo, it was confirmation that even though things were difficult for his small congregation, God was still at work. Here’s a link to our recent story about the church’s re-launch as Redemption on Easter Sunday: http://gofbw.com/blog?id=1653
“Community revitalization and church revitalization are difficult,” he said. “It was nice to see God come through like that.”
Nicole Kalil is the Jacksonville-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She can be reached by phone at 904.596.3169 or via email at nicole.kalil@goFBW.com