CINCINNATI (BP) --- At the Heritage Glen apartments in metro Cincinnati, the setting sun masks some of the harsher realities of this low-income complex -- the overgrown grass, the worn exterior paint and a dilapidated tennis court.
A handful of volunteers from the Red Door, a Southern Baptist church plant, play and laugh with the neighborhood kids. The apartments are only about 25 miles from the Indian Hill community where Cincinnati's elite -- like astronaut Neil Armstrong -- live. Yet Heritage Glen, in the Fairfield community, seems like a thousand miles away.
But more to the point for church planter Joshua Lenon, it's even farther from heaven.
For the past two years, Cincinnati's Red Door church, started by Lenon in 2010, has pointed people in the apartments to Jesus by trying to close that distance.
Josh and Tiffany Lenon are among five North American Mission Board missionary couples featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The offering supports the Lenons and others like them who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists throughout North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year's offering theme is "Whatever It Takes."
"We can provide just a glimpse of heaven on earth," Lenon says. "We can paint a picture of God's future for these people."
Today that means throwing a block party for Heritage Glen's families -- complete with pizza, popcorn, cotton candy and a family friendly movie. In recent months, it has meant everything from redoing the apartment complex's playground -- including buying equipment and doing the landscaping -- to providing Thanksgiving meals for its residents.
And much of that ministry is thanks to the faithful gifts of Southern Baptists. "Flat out, we wouldn't be able to do what we're doing without the support of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the North American Mission Board," Lenon says. "We wouldn't have the funds to do that."
THE LORD'S PRAYER
The church's commitment to bringing heaven to earth isn't just a trendy church planting strategy. Instead, it's born out of the Bible's most famous prayer -- the Lord's Prayer, found in Matthew 6.
Lenon came to this conviction in the midst of a particularly tough time in his life. Discouraged by a bad experience on staff at a large church, 30-year-old Lenon and his wife began a time of soul-searching.
"The Lord's Prayer became really significant for me," Lenon recounts. "I thought if Jesus said to pray about this, then it is probably what I should be about. I prayed it repeatedly. I thought about it constantly.
"For me, it was hitting the reset button. I knew this was going to be a critically important thing for me -- to wrap my mind around this prayer."
Late one night as he pondered the Lord's Prayer, he came across a life-altering realization -- the Christian life isn't just about getting people into heaven; it also is about bringing heaven to earth.
Tears started to flow. Months of frustration boiled over. "If that prayer moves from heaven to earth, it means I have a very specific mission for my life: to spend my life bringing heaven to earth," Lenon says.
A CHURCH IS BORN
Realizing this was the kind of truth that should incubate in community, Lenon called some friends near Cincinnati where he was from to see if anyone would want to study the truth together. To his surprise, many did. Thirty-five people showed up for a whiteboard session to discuss what it would be like if they spent their lives bringing heaven to earth. And what if they did it -- together?
Even after the group started meeting monthly, Lenon wasn't ready to call it a "church." But God soon made the word unavoidable. Josh and wife Tiffany moved back to Cincinnati with no money, no jobs, and the conviction that God wanted them to spend their lives "bringing heaven to earth."
For the next year, Lenon and others who were becoming his core team made plans to start a church in suburban Cincinnati. Lenon named the new church the Red Door, which had a creative double meaning. In cultures around the world red doors represent places of refuge and safety. Lenon says the tradition goes all the way back to the Exodus, when the Israelites painted the doors of their homes with the blood of an unblemished lamb. Everyone behind that door was safe.
"Hundreds of years later, Jesus painted a red door over the cosmos and says, 'All who enter through me are safe,'" Lenon says. "We tell Red Door people that whether it's your office cubicle or your daughter's soccer game, or it's your work party or it's your neighborhood, you should be the place that people know as a place of home and welcome and safety and restoration."
Now, a year and a half after the church officially launched in September 2010, worship attendance is starting to climb past 100 -- many of whom are connecting with a church for the first time or reconnecting after years of being away. Five people have been baptized in the past year.
The help of other Southern Baptists -- both locally and around North America -- has been crucial to what God is doing through the Red Door. A strong partnership with a local Southern Baptist association and nearby Lakota Hills Baptist Church in West Chester Township has provided a breath of fresh air for the fledgling congregation. Lenon compares the newfound Lakota Hills partnership to an orphan finding a parent.
"You feel very, very alone without a strong partner church," Lenon says. "With Lakota Hills coming alongside of us, it's like finding parents. All of a sudden you find out that someone cares for you and loves you. They help take care of needs that you don't even know exist and aren't planning for."
And Lenon has started to plan for future church plants with a similar vision of bringing heaven to earth.
"In five years we'd like to have two churches," Lenon says. "Not a satellite, but another pastor leading a community of people like the Red Door, sharing resources and sharing a vision."
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Josh Lenon and other Week of Prayer missionaries, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.
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