Descending upon the campus of Jacksonville’s Englewood High School, more than 25 volunteers from GO Jax 2016 planted vibrant flowers and shrubs along the sidewalks of the school’s entrance, mulched beds and repainted wooden garbage bins a bright yellow to freshen up the urban campus.
As the hands and feet of Christ, the fruits of their labors sent a message to the student body and faculty alike, said Principal Sara Bravo.
“First impressions of a school campus are very important. Because of the efforts of these volunteers, there is a new sense of pride about the campus. Students should feel we care about their environment and these improvements send that message.”
The volunteers were among 170 co-laborers representing seven Jacksonville congregations from three denominations during GO Jax 2016, an event held April 23.
They answered a call issued by Gary Webber, pastor of Southside Baptist Church, who asked, “What would happened if the people of faith from all across the city of Jacksonville came together to be the feet and hands of Jesus?”
The corps of volunteers of all ages fanned out to 10 locations across the Southside-San Marco community to work with local non-profit organizations and ministries–performing tasks that included sorting food for Feeding NE Florida; cleaning facilities at an outreach facility; providing construction and remodeling building of several other non-profit agencies; and washing windows of elderly neighbors in their community. Undergirding their efforts were prayer ministry and feeding teams.
“The vision of GO Jax is to bring the Body of Christ together, crossing organizational and denominational divides, to serve the city in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Webber, whose church spearheaded the effort. “We hope to connect God’s people to ministry opportunities throughout the city where individual’s unique gifts, talents, and experience might be used in an ongoing way.”
And he added, “We hope to unify churches by providing members of different congregations a common vision for serving our city.”
In addition to Webber’s church, churches cooperating to minister to their community through GO Jax included Southside Karen Baptist Church, Epoch Church, TheCity.church, Southside Assembly of God and South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church.
“Members of our partnering churches are getting to know each other and are gaining a deeper appreciation for the ministry of other local churches,” said Webber. “They are beginning to become aware of the incredible opportunities that exist to serve others in such a way that the name of Jesus is lifted above the name of any of our individual congregations.”
These ministry partners—those organizations benefiting from the volunteers’ efforts–are “seeing ‘The Church’ as a force for good,” said Webber. “It’s defying the negative stereotype our culture has of churches that operate in silos–denominational, congregational, socio-economical, racial and others.”
GO Jax volunteers at Julia Landon College Preparatory & Leadership School provided manual labor that would have taken months for Assistant Principal Carolyn Aponte to accomplish, she said. The team organized the resource center, packed texted books into boxes, added barcodes for inventory and transported books between floors.
City.Church serves as Landon’s school’s faith-based partner; and Southside Church, located just blocks from the school, is involved through a mentor partnership that includes church members going to lunch with their mentees at the school.
“The church is an integral part of our community and service is one of the non-monetary ways they can support local schools, Aponte said.
GO Jax will continue to be an ongoing emphasis among the Southside-area churches, explained Vickie Harrelson, director of mobilization at Southside. This is the second work day coordinated by the church. Another day of ministry is set for October.
Principal Bravo said local schools need the body of Christ impacting their campuses. “A governmental separation of church and state does not mean there can’t be involvement,” she explained.
“By sharing time and effort with schools, churches are showing that their efforts of extending God’s work go far beyond traditional prayer. God’s message can be seen and felt through the involvement of churchgoers at schools and those prayers are, in turn, felt by students.”