A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church in metropolitan Atlanta gained national attention after the pastor got specific in a sermon about hospitality.
“I have a proposal for you today,” Chris George said in his July 17 sermon at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga. “What if Smoke Rise developed a reputation as a community of welcome? What if here, in this church, we were known first and foremost as a good neighbor?”
George, pastor of the 1,800-member congregation since 2013, had already written church members about Malik Waliyani, whose gas station and convenience store a block away was burglarized and ransacked earlier in the week.
“He’s a stranger to some of us,” George described the church’s neighbor in need. “Although many of us have driven by his gas station every week on our way to Smoke Rise, we might not know him. Others may have stopped in, slid your card, but never walked inside.”
After learning about the crime committed in the wee hours of Monday, July 11, George said he went over and introduced himself to Waliyani, a practicing Muslim born in India who had purchased the business just three months earlier. Talking about it later with church staff, the group desired to respond with something more than just cards and prayers.
“We are praying for him,” George said in the July 17 sermon. “The kids are sending cards, but today we are making a decision to do more than that. We’re putting our prayers into practice. We are not going to be like those who walked to the other side of the street when they see a stranger in need. We are walking and we are driving to the other side of the street to extend hospitality, care and compassion because this is what Christians do.”
That afternoon an estimated 150 to 200 members drove over to buy gas and make other purchases, and over the next week continued to shop, with an estimated 350 or more churchgoers stopping by in all.
“Good people, like the members of Smoke Rise Baptist, are reweaving our nation’s social fabric even as it is being torn,” Kristof said in the column contrasting the act with meanness and polarization characterizing current political debate.
“This is what followers of Jesus do,” George said in the July 17 sermon. “We help those who are in need. We offer a helping hand to our neighbor. We see more than just a local business. We see a friend, and we commit as a congregation to be a good neighbor to this friend.”
George said Aug. 16 Smoke Rise has received cards, calls and other communication from people of all faiths all over the world and is also seeing the beginning of new relationships and partnerships in the community.
“We have been surprised by the ripple effects of what seems like a small pebble of kindness tossed into the water,” George said in an email. “A simple act of compassion has been a source of hope and inspiration for others.”
“Scripture tells us God takes a small thing, like a mustard seed, and works miracles,” he said. “This has certainly been our experience, and we give thanks to God.”