One of the highlights from today was visiting the Kings Villages apartment complex. This complex has 1400 residence and occupies six blocks (32 acres) in Pasadena, CA. Ten years ago the apartments were full of drug dealers, gangs, and prostitution – even the police stayed out of the gated community. Crime ran amok and poverty was evident everywhere. The people lived in a virtual prison.
A little church, Community Baptist Church, of 25 people looked across the street at this tragedy and was challenged by the spirit of God to do something. But what could a little tiny African-American fellowship do? Pastor Jean Burch, a former lawyer, worked to form a nonprofit corporation that could tackle the tough issue. Through great determination, creativity and imagination the church worked to purchase the complex.
Pastor Jean tells a wonderful story of how the church came into the complex after purchasing it, called a meeting and proceeded to tell the residents how they were going to fix up the residence and, in essence, save the people. The pastor and her congregation were stunned and embarrassed when one person rebuked the new owners as self-interested, self-serving landlords. The residents were fearful, skeptical and suspicious of the new owner’s intentions. In a beautiful act of grace and humility the pastor and congregation later returned and apologized. They said they were sorry for assuming what the complex’s needs were, for not genuinely listening to the people who lived there, and for living across the street and allowing the complex to fall into such disrepair. The pastor also brought other civic leaders into the complex to apologize. The tragedy of the Kings Villages was the fault of everyone in the community.
Today the complex is a beautiful, vibrant and rich living environment. All of the apartments have been refurbished at a cost of $17,000 per unit, the complex has been painted, plumbing fixed, grass planted, pools cleaned and filled and so much more. The apartments now have a computer learning center, social services, kids programs and ESL classes. The dream of renewal has been realized because a small church listened for the voice of God in their sanctuary and in their neighborhood. God’s spirit is among God’s people.