The 5 train dropped me at the Prospect Avenue stop in the South Bronx on a cool, pleasant November morning. I had met Rich Rivera only a few times in the City to City office, but now here I was on his turf, part of his entourage for the day. “Fair warning, I walk a lot!” Rich told us. “Get your trooper gear ready.”
Most of the day we explored the Longwood neighborhood where Rich’s church, Restoration Community Church, is located. Right away I noticed Casa Amadeo, a fixture of a music shop selling records and cassette tapes. Some old Latin jazz tunes floated from outdoor speakers. Next to Casa Amadeo sat a Habitat for Humanity building called “The Melody,” etched with quarter notes and instruments on the outer walls, an homage to a borough loaded with musical heritage.
We also visited The Point, an unheralded community development corporation that’s been resourcing the neighborhood since before it was cool. They offer programs for youth, arts and culture, and economic revitalization. “They’re a well-kept secret,” said Rich. “They do more for kids than anyone else in the neighborhood.” The church has a good relationship with The Point because of their common commitment to being a positive, long-term presence in the community.
These two places evoked what is special about the South Bronx—a culture that is creative, diverse, and resourceful. However, it is also a place in need of churches with a gospel witness to tap into these assets. I can see Restoration doing this. Their mission statement is “to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus in the South Bronx through worship, community, and service.” They have developed a parenting workshop and employed the musical and artistic gifts of members of the church and community. They are helping people see how idols turn them away from God.
At the end of the day, with the savor of our afternoon snack of pastelillos lingering in my mouth, I felt encouraged by how God is using the church to bring renewal.
Will you help Restoration continue being a gospel presence in the South Bronx?