Street Wise 

While faith-based initiative monies are held in limbo, one Richmond pastor hopes to shake the purse strings loose.

Ellison came home from the conference confident that the government would help him build — and pay for — a project he calls the Urban Restoration Center, an outreach project aimed at area youth. All he needed was $2 million.

It turned out to be $2 million too much.

Since Sept. 11, plans for disbursing federal money through the faith-based initiative have stalled. Congress still is trying to determine how best to proceed with President George W. Bush's plan to help pay for certain faith-based social programs.

But Ellison aims to jump-start the process anyway. "It's time to see where that money's going to go," he says, "to the grass-roots guys or to the big guys. You're talking about federal dollars, big-time money. When it comes we got to be in place."

To Ellison, that means leaving his pulpit and hitting the streets.

This summer, Ellison and some of Richmond's most intrepid inner-city pastors plan to join forces for "Urban Blaze, the Life or Death Crusade," a two-month religious mission-outreach program that Ellison promises will evangelize and transform some of Richmond's toughest project neighborhoods.

Ellison claims he needs just $25,000 to pull it off. He calls it a crime-preventive outreach.

Ellison says he'll raise the money himself, put on the event, then report its success to the faith-based government office in Washington. This way, he hopes to be first in line to get federal money once it's doled out. If all goes according to plan, Ellison predicts the street ministry will prove powerful.

"We're concerned about the death rate rising back up in Richmond," says Ellison. "Pastors now have to be homeland security in the inner city."

Ellison, a conservative Republican, is the first to say that he doesn't often find people in the projects who share his political views. But it doesn't mean he won't try to convince them to seek Jesus.

Beginning in July and running through August, "Urban Blaze" will target Creighton, Gilpin, Whitcomb, Fairfield and Mosby courts. Ellison says he has an impressive crew to work with. "These pastors are leaving their pulpits to go smack into the projects," says Ellison excitedly. "These are areas where God is leading us."

So far, the ministers joining Ellison in "Urban Blaze" are the Rev. Donald Coleman, executive director of Virginia Child; the Rev. Ellis Bias, founder of the church Bringing God's Word to Life; the Rev. Otis Smith, of New Beginnings Outreach; Hank Parker, evangelist and founder of Grace Alive Outreach; and the Rev. Harold Wilson, a Gilpin Court preacher for more than 20 years.

"We're not going in with carnivals, we're going in to save lives," stresses Ellison, explaining that some local ministries' efforts have "been getting soft." "Urban Blaze" will take place on Friday and Saturday nights through July and August, and will feature gospel music, sermons, personal testimonies and tractor-trailer trucks full of food, Ellison says.

"We want to lower the temperature of crime before summer hits," says Ellison assuredly. "The streets of Richmond are going to be safe and prayed in."




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