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'Church Rescue' helps Zion Baptist Evangelistic Temple on NatGeo

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Yesterday’s episode of “Church Rescue” brought the Church Hoppers; Kevin “Rev. Kev” Annas, Anthony “Gladamere” Lockhart and Jerry “Doc” Bentley to Compton, Calif. to help out a church that sits in the middle of a turf war between two gangs. The distraught but determined pastor, Kevin Stafford of the Zion Baptist Evangelistic Temple, better known as ZBET, has called on the Church Hoppers to help with the difficult financial time the church is having. The church spreads the word of God by singing, dancing and raw celebration in a community that witnessed the closing of about sixty churches this past year.

Upon their arrival, the building looked good, but it in no way resembled a church. As they arrived in time for service, they truly stood out among the crowd. The energy inside the church was high and the worshipers were partying for Jesus Christ. When they saw the people inside, they wondered how they could have money issues with such a large congregation. When the service was concluded, they went to speak with Pastor Kevin and his executive pastor, Lewis Eldridge, who handled the financial responsibilities of the church.

While Gladamere met with the parishioners, Rev. Kev and Doc got a tour of the facility. When they saw the executive pastor’s office, they found out that he is now part-time, as he had to get a full-time job due to the downturn in the economy.

Gladamere met with the people, who loved the pastor and the energy of the church. One woman felt that the pastor was under great stress, but had not shared it with the congregation. He recently approached his members and asked if each would make a sacrificial gift to the church. This is unusual, so she assumes there is financial pressure on him.

In his office, there were basketball pictures and trophies, in fact, his sister is Trisha Stafford Odom, a basketball star in her own right and a coach at Duke University in their home state of North Carolina.

Pastor Kevin told the guys that the reason they were failing, was because when the economy was booming, they purchased a nearby building for $600,000, to use as a community center, for food drives and charitable events. Now they are close to $100,000 behind in payments. When Gladamere spoke to church board members, even they had no idea how desperate the situation was. The pastor has a plan to purchase another building to help get them out of debt, but the Church Hoppers are skeptical that adding more debt is not the answer. Pastor Kevin was willing to hand over the books to the reverends. He admitted that they were three months from financial ruin, and barring a miracle, the reverends will search for the best solution for its survival.

When the three met at a local carnival, they discussed their findings. Pastor Stafford needs to communicate with his congregation. They came up with three key solutions; get the pastor to communicate his problems with the congregation and not go further into debt, find creative fundraising ways to help the church pay its bills and lastly, do a renovation focusing on the exterior of the building to make it more like a church.

Rev. Kev got a tour of the community with Darren Smith, a minister at ZBET. They passed by several churches that were closed and described how their church is in between the turf of two rival gangs. Darren described how he and a friend were walking toward the church one day and were mistaken for rival gang members, when his friend was shot dead. Gangs are killing innocent women and children for territory that they have not paid a single cent for one brick on the street. As they passed by another closed church, both Darren and Kevin attended as children, the streets were packed with cars on Sundays as the entire neighborhood came together.

The next day, they met with Pastor Kevin to go over their findings. If they have any hope of saving the church, they need Pastor Kevin’s full cooperation. They told him they did not agree with purchasing another property to help their debt crisis although he and Lewis disagreed. They told them that the bank that is ready to come down on them, has already closed close to sixty churches. The fact that he has not shared the financial situation with the rest of the congregation is wrong.

They stated to the pastor and his assistant that the area is rich with professional basketball players who grew up in and around Compton, and with some help, the church can thrive. They suggested a fundraising event spotlighting on the talent that came from Compton. They called an emergency board meeting to discuss the problems of the church. The board was adamant that the pastor must be open with them and chastised him for his secrecy.

When the facelift of the building was continuing, a huge blue cross was placed on the side of the building, and they brightened up the exterior to make it look more like the presence of God was there.

They then took Pastor Kevin to meet with a financial planner, and the truth set him free. He now knows what he must do to keep this church running.

Next, the Church Hoppers organized a basketball fundraiser and they booked some pretty impressive talent. Doug Christie, whose career spanned fifteen years in the NBA, and several other sports and television personalities, including his wife, Jackie Christie, There was actor Frantz Latten, actor Nyambi Nyambi, (Samuel) who works at the restaurant on Mike & Molly, writer and actor J. Lee, producer Jayar Jackson, all playing against the pastor and the Church Hoppers and one more surprise; his sister Trisha Stafford Odom arrived to coach his team. As she was giving tips to her team, she saw Doug Christie and changed the gameplan to prayer! They lost the game by only four points, but it was an enjoyable time. However, when the game was over, it was time for Pastor Kevin to come clean with his parishioners. Although scared to do this, the pastor took the microphone and spoke from his heart. As his congregation looked on, he saw the shock on their faces, when he told them that $80,000 was the goal in the next few months. Doug and Jackie took the microphone from Pastor Kevin and told the fans that they were behind him and promised their help to see his dream come true, and they even donated items to the fundraiser.

When the pastor saw the exterior of the building, he was overwhelmed with pride, that he now had an icon in the area that was easily recognizable. When the service was about to start, Doug and Jackie Christie attended the service with their children. He then brought the Church Hoppers to the lectern to the rousing applause and gratitude of the entire congregation.

Three months later, Pastor Stafford and ZBET continue to find creative ways of paying down their debts, as the ZBET community continues to rally around their pastor and fight for the church’s survival. They are currently seeking outside contributions to help keep the doors open.

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