Amid dilapidated houses swathed in vines and Spanish moss — and hedged in with live oaks and garbage — along Lee and G streets in Brunswick, Zion Baptist Church provides a thriving pulse for the area filled with blight.
With plans to transform the fire traps and drug dens in the neighborhood into a multi-purpose complex and affordable housing, the church is showing what it means to move forward in faith. The Rev. Craig Campbell couldn’t be more excited.
“We want to tear down these houses, get churches to help rebuild and refurbish them and give people an opportunity to buy them and become homeowners,” said Campbell, senior pastor of Zion Baptist Church.
“Habitat for Humanity can only do so much, but if we can come together and create that synergy of excitement and partnership, we can improve the quality of life here and establish a sense of hope. We have to create partnership with the community in order to fulfill this great mission.”
Campbell was raised in Brunswick and has seen his fair share of the area’s housing falling into ruins. But he knew even in the seventh grade that his godly mission was to come back to the city and transform it into a thriving neighborhood, free of blight and drugs.
“I felt their was greater work here, and God told me that I should go into social work and make this my mission. I’ve been in social work for 25 years, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said.
“I couldn’t work here, see these people living like this and not want to help. It’s not about getting praise or just greeting and preaching. The work is outside, not inside the church and in order to reach people, we have to go out and actually help them.”
According to the City of Brunswick’s dilapidated structures list, which was last updated on June 11, there are nearly 140 ramshackle structures and vacant lots on the priority list for demolition.
Restoring the abandoned properties provides a way for area churches to address the needs of the community without leaving the neighborhood riddled with gaping holes, Campbell said.
But he knows that a project of this size and undertaking will take quite a bit of time. Campbell is already prepared for the complex to take up to two years until it reaches completion.
“There are more than 100 vacant houses in this neighborhood, but it takes time to get those dwellings (from their original owners),” he said. “But in the end, we want safe, affordable neighborhoods for people to live in, and we want to meet their spiritual needs.”
What remains of the 20 decrepit buildings the church had purchased and torn down in the 1700 blocks of Lee, G and Gordon streets in July 2013 is a roped-off plot, where the multi-purpose complex will be placed to increase its ministry efforts. The church’s building initiative ministry is actively in the planning stages, Campbell said.
“Since we’ve torn down the houses, there has been less crime and illegal activities in this area that I know of,” he said.
While much of the work has been a combination of generous donations from the Zion Baptist ministry, as well as the city and other interested parties, the church was recently deeded a property from St. William Catholic Church on St. Simons Island that it has been seeking to demolish, and then, rebuild from the ground up.
To Monsignor John Kenneally, pastor of St. William Catholic Church on St. Simons Island, helping a fellow church was a way to foster a working relationship and hopefully inspire other area churches to take action.
“It’s a question of recognizing that the more we can help each other and use that influence on making the community a better place to live,” the church is better equipped to reach the masses with the Good News of Jesus Christ, Kenneally said.
“It’s my hope that other churches will follow, in similar fashion, take these abandoned houses and lots, recycle them and make them into more attractive homes. It’ll be helpful for those who can’t directly afford a home themselves, and makes it a better place for everybody there.”
It only takes one step, Campbell said.
“If people are willing to just take those first steps, we can make a transformation. Let’s come together and be integral in the community. I know it can happen if we come together,” he said.
“How can we impact and impart on the lives of others if we don’t try and help them? Jesus would want us to do this, and I feel blessed to be afforded this opportunity to fulfill his mission.”