Cannadas building hope among the hopeless
February 28 2003 by Debbie Moore , North American Mission Board

Cannadas building hope among the hopeless | Friday, Feb. 28, 2003

Friday, Feb. 28, 2003

Cannadas building hope among the hopeless

By Debbie Moore North American Mission Board

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As a sports journalist and editor for 10 years, Norm Cannada had no idea that he would wind up living and ministering in the struggling inner city of Charleston, W.Va. But it was while serving on a mission trip in New York City that he and his wife, Debbie, realized God was calling them to live and minister among people many others had forgotten.

"I believe for the most part the church ignores the inner city," said Cannada, a church planter strategist in Charleston. "... But as far as living day to day, living among the people, there are not a lot of people who are willing to do that. I just fell in love with the whole concept of touching lives. If we lived somewhere else, we would never be part of the community."

The Cannadas, both North Carolina natives, are among the missionaries featured during the 2003 Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 2-9.

After being called by God to leave his job and enter the ministry in 1994, Norm was serving on a church staff in Statesville when he and Debbie had the opportunity to work with Taylor Fields on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

"It was during that time that we knew God's call to the city. We just knew that's where we were supposed to be, with inner-city people," said Debbie, who has been amazed over the past five years at how God has used her training as a special-education teacher and experience in ministry.

While attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary the Cannadas contacted all 42 Southern Baptist state conventions to discover what inner-city ministry opportunities were available. But they never imagined West Virginia would be a candidate.

"Everybody knows there's no inner city in West Virginia," Debbie said.

But after a visit to Charleston before Cannada's graduation, "we knew immediately that this was where God was calling us to be," she said. They moved that June, intent on starting a multi-racial church in a unique environment where he said, "rural Appalachia meets the inner city."

"God led us to an area that was considered the worst corner in Charleston," he said. "... There would be 15 to 20 drug dealers there all the time."

They established West Charleston Baptist Church in their home. Rather than taking the usual approach of first reaching out to the people with ministries then beginning a church, Cannada decided to start a church that would minister to the community.

The congregation started with Cannada's family and four new friends. Soon they had 49 regular attendees. They moved into a former convenience store. While also working to establish congregations in a trailer park and a government housing project on the outskirts of Charleston, Cannada challenged the West Charleston congregation to begin praying for the money to obtain an abandoned building across the street from the convenience store - an old print shop and warehouse.

"We prayed and fasted. We believed God did not want us to go into debt for it," Cannada said. By March 2002 - with some help from the North American Missions Board (NAMB), the West Virginia Baptist Convention and the Florida Baptist Convention - they purchased the 9,500-square-foot, two-story building.

"It was a miracle itself," Cannada said, concerning the process of praying and waiting on God for the money. One of the last-minute contributions was an anonymous donation of $45,000.

Along with traditional evangelism tools of backyard Bible clubs, vacation Bible schools and a food pantry, Cannada has led the congregation to reach out to their community through a combination of church-based ministries and proactive "servant evangelism."

Everything is done "in the name of Jesus first, but under the name West Charleston Baptist Church," he said. "The church seemed to give (the ministries) more credibility."

Homeless people are welcomed to take a shower in a newly renovated section of the church building.

Children can get help with their homework after school or just come to play, as the church sanctuary doubles as a basketball court. Free ballet classes are available.

Unemployed people can learn new work skills in the church's computer lab, where seven new computer systems were donated by Florida Baptists.

Servant evangelism takes place when members clean toilets for storeowners in Charleston's Town Center Mall; serve free hot coffee, juice and doughnuts to people waiting in lines at the local welfare office; hand out free cold drinks and doughnuts to weary travelers at the bus station; and wash cars for free at a local grocery store.

Cannada has taught church members to state simply - as people stare at them incredulously - "We want to serve you to show you God's love in a practical way."

He said the church has "gotten the reputation for being people who care, and that's a pretty neat thing."

"We've been careful to pray for people - not just take requests, but to pray right then. So we've gotten the reputation that we love them and will pray for them. I think that's made a difference," he said. "We do about anything you can do just to show people that we love them and that we care about them."

Living Hope Baptist Church is Cannada's newest endeavor - his third church plant in the area. The thriving congregation is located in the middle of Charleston's infamous Badlands area. Several years ago the city designated the mile-long stretch, because of its relatively out-of-sight location, for strip clubs and porn shops, but Cannada targeted the area in 2001 as a prime location for the gospel.

He started by meeting some basic needs of the women and children in the neighborhood: after-school care and Bible studies, and a prayer walk.

In 2002, Cannada recruited a pastor for the fledgling congregation. James Fitzwater, a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed to serve as a church planter intern through NAMB's Nehemiah Project.

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2/28/2003 12:00:00 AM by Debbie Moore , North American Mission Board | with 0 comments
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