Rapha Ministries assembled to sing Christmas carols, pray and lift the community of Homewood up recently to emphasize that Jesus Christ is the reason for the Christmas season.
Reverend Jeremiah L. Thomas, pastor of Rapha Ministries, is celebrating his 20th year in Homewood. He has seen ups and downs in a community famous for chalk outlines and grieving mothers, and shattered families at the hands of triggers with anonymous fingers pulling them.
“Rapha means healing,” said Rev. Thomas. When asked how he can help heal the families in Homewood, he said simply, “It has to be jobs, the economy.”
Believing his work is essential to his community, he has tried to continue the legacy of the church from the 1950s and ‘60s when they were at the forefront of the civil rights movement and a primary organizer for education and fundraising before that. Today, however, Rev. Thomas believes the community is lacking leadership and that the leadership has to come from the church.
“The church has always been the pillar of the community,” he said. “It’s a breakdown of the family. Drugs are the number one culprits, causing unemployment, poverty.”
Reverend Thomas believes there are a lot of Jay –Zs in the community with misguided energy. They would rather not have to break the law but feel that to make the kind of money that would allow them to live a lavish life, they feel they have to.
“I had a young man that was making $5,000 a week before he came into the church. The money was addictive,” he said. Telling them, “If you can do that, you can be like Jay-Z and make real businesses. The church needs to create opportunities for people who are talented like that.”
One of the reasons Rev. Thomas says the church has to lead is because of what he calls “red tape” with local politicians. He has asked them for basketball courts, tennis courts and a playground. He even asked a prominent basketball player to donate a park, to the same result.
“They laughed at me. I know a particular guy who just got a $35 million contract. He laughed at me,” he said. “There is a Councilman around the corner who has a lot of money. He is really sticky with the money. I guess it’s going to Squirrel Hill or other neighborhoods. We don’t have a super market. [We] Have to go to Squirrel Hill and East Hills to go shopping.”
Reverend Thomas also works with the physically handicapped. His ministry has undeveloped land he would like to get funding to develop. “My vision is to have a 50-unit assisted living complex,” he said.
Reverend Thomas isn’t just content to pray for things to get better, that is why he and Rapha Ministries chose to go out and take the Christmas spirit directly to the people. “We don’t have inside church for this,” he said. “This is a time for the church to come outside. We are the light. Jesus came to be the light of the world so the church is the light of the world.”
They sang “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World,” and prayed and honored the Pittsburgh Police force with a love gift. They gave shirts with a police badge on the sleeve and hats from Whatever the Challenge Don’t Quit Clothing Store, a reminder that police and citizens alike in a new year must learn to trust and forgive each other.
(J.L. Martello also contributed to this article.
GABRIEL JENKINS Praying
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