The members of Open Door Mennonite Church (ODMC) in Jackson, Mississippi, a congregation built on community and faith, have been praying for God's provision. During the pandemic, Jackson residents were affected by disasters that displaced people from their homes: severe storms, the city sanitation department's refusal to service impoverished areas — causing living conditions that are unhealthy and unsanitary — and a major water crisis caused by the city's failing water infrastructure.
These protracted disasters have become the norm for the residents of Jackson, so they have called for improvements with the local and state governments.
ODMC is a charter member of Working Together Jackson (WTJ), a broad-based group of community organizers, presently made up of 24 organizations and churches from the area. Longtime members of the church Rhoda Yoder and Mark Roth joined the WTJ team and have been working on resolving community issues since 2012. Through community organizing, WTJ arranged garbage pickup in impoverished areas of the city, through legal intervention.
ODMC leaders embraced the need to trust God and respond to the crisis, channeling the spirit of Moses.
"'Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.' And they did so" (Exodus 14:4 NKJV).
ODMC leaders worked with nearly 500 neighbors and members of service agencies in April to raise awareness of the issues plaguing the community. They collected over $50,000 in donations to organize and address their concerns.
The water crisis in Jackson, which has been covered by national news, has caused many residents to consider relocating for safety and sanitation. Pastor McMillion, pastor of ODMC, described the disaster and subsequent displacement in a way that inspired me and Naomi Leary, regional director for North America, to draw attention to the needs of the Jackson community. In January, Mission Network executive leadership approved a $10,000 grant to assist ODMC and its community organizers in Jackson. These funds are being used to provide water and other much-needed supplies to Jackson residents.
ODMC and the Gulf States Mennonite Conference have stood the test of opposition in the Mississippi region, by taking the lead and sharing a vision in which members of their community would contribute to needed change. It has been a blessing for Mission Network to be invited to share in and support the work that the leaders of ODMC are engaged in.
ODMC is a model for how discerning our place as a community and church when crises threaten those around us. As disasters became commonplace for Jackson residents, it became obvious that community leaders needed to draw together. They began to pay attention to where they position God. When things become urgent, and people become desperate, God can easily become a second thought. But that was not the case for ODMC. They leaned on their need for one another and their faith in God.