From addict to urban missionary
    November 19 2014 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

    The numbers are staggering.
    According to The Dream Center of Gaston County’s website (, more than 95 percent of students at Rhyne and Woodhill Elementary schools in the Highlands community receive free or reduced lunches. Only about half of those are able to function at an appropriate grade level. Thirty percent of Highlands households live in poverty.
    Those are the cold and hard numbers, and the stories of life in Highlands are even more heartbreaking. Young toddlers are left untended.
    Drugs and crime seem to be everywhere, and multiple shootings have happened in the last few months.  
    It’s into this kind of environment that urban missionary Jaron Moss and his teams willingly venture as often as possible.


    Contributed photo
    Jaron Moss uses his past to open doors into the Highlands community in Gaston County. It started with walking and praying for the community. Moss works with The Dream Center in Gaston County in its efforts to reach its community.

    They are there through The Dream Center, a nonprofit effort organized by Bethlehem Baptist Church in Gastonia.
    “We started walking in the community, praying for the community, seeing the needs,” said Moss, who is 26 and a full-time student at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont.
    “As we’d walk around, you’d see people in the streets and on their porch. We’d just go up and talk to them.
    “We weren’t trying to tell people about the church. We were trying to love the people, and share the hope they can have in God. We just started loving the people, and through a few months, God started building relationships with people.”
    Moss’ is another in a long line of out-of-the-box ministries at Bethlehem, which hosts five weekend services at three campuses in the area. The Dream Center partners with local businesses every year to provide free services for weddings and proms.
    There are support groups for single parents, sports programs, job fairs – name it, and there’s a pretty good chance it can be found at Bethlehem, The Dream Center or both.
    The key to it all is this: None of the church’s efforts are necessarily designed to simply increase numbers, but instead to meet those in the community where they’re at, no matter what their circumstances might be. It’s about outreach in its simplest, purest form.
    “We’re just focused on relationships with the people and connecting them with the Word of God, not just in church but in their home,” Moss continued.
    “My whole life growing up, it was all about you invite people to church and tell the pastor to preach to them and teach them about God. I want these people to realize that God has equipped them to do that, to share God with their neighbors, friends and family.”
    A native of nearby Kings Mountain, Moss’ backstory is not unlike those that play out every day in Highlands. At 17, he began smoking weed. It wasn’t long before he was not only popping pills, but selling drugs as well.
    By 19, he was in rehab and charged with armed robbery.
    Six months after getting out of rehab, he’d fallen right back into the trap. Life was one long, slippery spiral downward. At one point, he placed a pistol in his mouth ready to pull the trigger.
    He didn’t and the next day his mother called and invited him to church.
    “At the end of the service, this lady stood up and said, ‘God told me that there’s a man in here …’ and she began to say every thought that was running through my head,” Moss remembered. “She said, ‘You’re thinking life’s too long.’ She kept sharing things about me that she didn’t know.”
    Moss made his way to the front of the church, and his life hasn’t been the same since.
    “I wanted to sit in that seat, but I couldn’t,” Moss said. “I was up in the front before I even knew it, just lifting my hands to God, not saying any complicated prayer, but just saying, ‘Help me.’ I began to cry, tears [were] running down my face for fifteen minutes.
    “I’ve never experienced the power of God like I did that day, ever. I walked back to my pew shivering. I left that day knowing something was different and changed. I felt as if someone had taken thousand-pound weights off of my shoulders.”
    In the years since, Moss’ life has made a dramatic turnaround from addict to urban missionary, from living solely for that next fix to proposing to girlfriend Anna in a video that’s sure to go viral if it hasn’t already.
    Drugs no longer matter to him. Even golf, a sport he loves, no longer holds quite the same attraction. What his old life does do, however, is give him an opening to serve the people in Highlands.
    “People welcome me so easily in this community,” Moss concluded. “(His story) opens doors for me, because a lot of these guys struggle with drugs, addiction and depression.
    “The life that I lived introduced me to all of those things, so when I go and start talking to them, I’m able to connect with them. God’s using my past mistakes for His good now.”
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Houston is a freelance writer living in Yadkinville. He has written books on NASCAR and the Space Shuttle program.)

    11/19/2014 2:02:11 PM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments
    Filed under: dream center, urban ministry

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