Organizers of neighborhood march on Cape Girardeau's south side looking for 'unusual miracle'

Sunday, November 30, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com
Kayla Smith adds a scripture to a prayer cloth at True Vine Ministries.

Byron Bonner is committed to helping people battling drug addiction in themselves or family members because he's been there himself.

Ten years ago, he was in the midst of a two-day crack cocaine binge in a drug house, desperately wanting to leave. He leaned into a one Bible verse from the book of James, repeating it to himself over and over again.

"Submit yourself therefore to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you."

Now a new pastor of a congregation in Cape Girardeau's troubled south side, he hopes that the neighborhood can adopt that same philosophy. Bonner is a pastor at one of three churches organizing a walk Saturday to inspire hope for the community. Organizers would like to see 1,000 people show up at 10 a.m. as a collective act of inspiration.

The group plans to anoint the streets with oil and prayer in a judgment-free outreach. Bonner said he would like to see the community draw together to support those who want to develop peaceful neighborhoods, help those struggling with substance abuse and drive away negative influences.

FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com
Volunteers at True Vine Ministries make signs for a march set for Saturday from Ranney Park to the South Hanover Street area.

Bonner knows what it's like to succumb to drugs. He lived that life for years before battling his crack cocaine addiction, he said Friday.

Ten years ago, after a two-day binge, he leaned into a long-lost faith in God and changed.

When Bonner left the drug house, "I waved at them and said, 'I won't come back here no more' and they said, 'You'll be back,'" he recalled. He went home and told his wife not to worry about him anymore and then got ready for church.

Glynis Bonner said her married life up to that point had been tumultuous and difficult on their two children. It took her nearly three years to believe what happened that day. Today, he works as a forklift driver; she is a social service director at Ratliff Care Center.

A little more than a year ago, the couple bought the building at 236 S. Sprigg St., which then housed a beauty shop. The business faltered. The Bonners prayed over what to do next.

A march from Ranney Park to the South Hanover Street neighborhood is being planned by local ministers, including, from left, Byron Bonner, Winston Williford and Howard McGee. Organizers hope to see 1,000 people take part.

"One day I said to Byron 'I don't think this building is supposed to house a business. I think it's meant to be a church.' He looked at me and said, 'I know. I was waiting for you to realize that,'" she said, sitting in what is now the sanctuary of their church, True Vine Ministries.

Neighborhood ministers

On Friday, Byron Bonner, sat in the church office with two other men who understood his path to redemption, Winston Williford, pastor of Freedom Road Ministries, and the Rev. Howard McGee, of New Horizons Missionary Church.

Williford said he once told people he was self-employed "because I was on drugs. I couldn't pass a drug test. Nobody would hire me because I was a known drug dealer," he said, adding that he has been drug-free for nine years. McGee, 65, said he lived a straight-laced life until joining the U.S. Air Force and landing in a military prison.

Now, all three spend time ministering to neighborhoods on Cape Girardeau's south side on a nearly daily basis.

McGee and Williford hold Saturday evening as well as Sunday morning services at their churches. Bonner sticks to Sundays, for now, but offers meals and fellowship periodically, as he did during Friday's planning session, handing out chili and hot dogs to visitors regardless of whether they chose to help make posters and prayer cloths -- scraps of fabric with scriptures written on them: "God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, (Acts 19:11)."

Herbst said the fact that anyone is organizing a community event on the city's south side "shows some interest, that people are saying 'enough is enough.'"

McGee said the work requires leadership; Williford, a Pentecostalist, said it means stepping beyond the bounds of a single denomination; Bonner said he just wants to give people hope. They said those are all important elements in Saturday's march.

McGee, a retired landscaper, devotes all his time to ministering, he said, and volunteering for the Salvation Army or United Way projects.

Williford works at Teen Challenge Ministries.

Bonner has been visiting the county jail twice a week, at times delivering Gideon Bibles or sometimes checking in with a man he has met on the street. He sometimes tells those he meets during neighborhood forays that he'll see them again in church or jail.

"They always look surprised when they see me in the jail," he said.

Recently he's begun delegating jail visiting duties to associate pastor Darryl Reddin.

Breaking down barriers

Though each pastor would like to draw new members to their respective flocks, they made it clear that Saturday's march is "not about numbers, not about people," as Williford said, "it's about coming together in the Body of Christ."

Pam Williford, like her husband, believes breaking down barriers between denominations will lead to a greater ability to help others find hope through salvation, regardless of which way takes them to God.

"We're living, walking, breathing proof that there is a change that can be made in your life," she said. "You can't do it, but through God, allowing God to work in your life, you can do it."

With the march coming on the heels of Thanksgiving and in the middle of the holiday season, the pastors said they recognize getting 1,000 people to meet at Ranney Park is ambitious. The combined membership of their respective churches is fewer than 300.

The pastors said they would especially like to see representatives from such southside churches as Greater Dimension, Southside Baptist, House of Hope and House of Prayer, but made it clear anyone is welcome to join the walk, which starts near the corner of Ranney Avenue and Maple Street, at Ranney Park, moves south to Hackberry Street, to South Sprigg Street and over the Highway 74 crosswalk to such streets as College, South Ellis, South Hanover, Good Hope, South Pacific, South Frederick, Jefferson and South Middle, before looping back and returning to the park. Bonner said people living along the route are welcome to join the march in progress, even if they only travel a block or two.

After the march, Bonner will host a service followed by a community organizing meeting.

An Oct. 18 march organized by Williford drew about 100 people for the 4.2 mile walk. He would like to see all Cape Girardeau churches support the event.

If that doesn't happen, "God knows we tried our best," he said, "and we're gonna keep on trying."

For three days this week, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, True Vine Ministries will host revival services. Bonner hopes other churches strive to do the same. For details of Saturday's walk, call Bonner at 332-8886.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

388-3646

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