Minister taking street-level approach to win souls

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 1, 2002

&uot;Shout for the Lord has given us the city.&uot; Joshua 6:16

Drugs, prostitution, gunfire, and other criminal activity have been considered commonplace on Suffolk’s eastside where East Washington Street is its main artery.

Many cars cruise at a snail’s pace in both directions on East Washington as music thumps at a vibrating level. Pedestrians earnestly go about their way, and some blatant malingerers with booze in hand are frequently seen propped along the sidewalk.

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For many years, the popular spot was the pool hall at the corner of Pinner and East Washington streets, a magnet that attracted much of the area’s criminal element. Today, a new police precinct is being built in the place of it.

Lifelong Suffolk resident Elder Charlie W. Wiggins Sr., 61, said this was the answer to one of his many prayers regarding the future plight of his community. But 10 years ago, Wiggins, an associate minister at New Mt. Joy Church of God In Christ (COGIC) on neighboring County Street, combined some action with his prayers.

He said he simply answered a request from God.

&uot;He (God) told me to win souls for Christ and that it’s time to make a change here,&uot; said Wiggins. &uot;I just want to make a big difference in the city.&uot;

Ten years ago, he started doing that by holding outdoor services on East Washington Street. Today members of the community look forward to the services, which are mostly held on Saturdays throughout the summer. Mt. Joy COGIC sponsors the services, and Wiggins serves as coordinator, and generally delivers the sermons.

Because some find entering a house of worship intimidating, he believes the outdoor concept has worked to the ministry’s advantage. Many churches have adopted a &uot;come as you are&uot; dress code; however, lingering stigmas sometimes thwart efforts to recruit people to the Christian walk. The atmosphere of the services is very laid back, which draws more of a diverse crowd, said Wiggins.

As a showing of respect for the outdoor services, blaring secular music is normally turned down to give way for some traditional and upbeat contemporary gospel. Alcoholic drinks are also normally discarded.

Crowds as small as 30 and upward convene for the services, and many attendees leave the experience seeking out a regular place of worship.

&uot;People come by as they are walking by, or driving. Some have given their life to Christ, and some have joined our church,&uot; said Wiggins. &uot;We just want people to come as they are. We are bringing this to people to make this city a better place. The Bible tells us to go out and spread the gospel.&uot;

The services were originally held at another vacant lot on East Washington Street until moving it to the Red Barn convenience store parking lot about three years ago. Axay Patel, Red Barn manager, attests that the ministry has made a difference in the area.

&uot;We look at it this way. No matter which God you serve, there is only one God that we know,&uot; said Patel. &uot;We see a lot of people who drink, for example, come out and enjoy the services.&uot;

Wiggins says he’s very thankful to the business for donating the use of the parking lot to the ministry, and Patel looks forward to continuing the exchange.

&uot;He (Wiggins) doesn’t even have to ask me to use the parking lot,&uot; Patel said as he and Wiggins shared a laugh.

Snow &uot;Fishman&uot; Waters sells fish from his truck stationed on the property, and he came in contact with the ministry at its birth. Waters recalled that when he started his seafood business on East Washington Street, Wiggins prayed for his success at the location and, &uot;I haven’t stopped prospering yet.&uot; Waters is also proud to say that he is a member of Mt. Joy, in part, due to the street ministry’s influence.

Wiggins’ son, Charles W. Jr., also a minister, assists his father. The younger Wiggins stated that the services have definitely had a &uot;positive impact&uot; on the area, reducing the instances of criminal activity.

&uot;We are just doing what God requires us to do,&uot; said Wiggins Jr. &uot;Everyone needs the Lord. We just want to bring change to this generation.&uot;

Both Wiggins Sr. and Jr. added a Biblical premise based on Joshua 6:16: &uot;`Shout for the Lord has given us the city,’&uot; indicating that they seek to continue breaking down barriers in Suffolk that inhibit spiritual and personal progress.

Services are held beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays at the Red Barn convenience store parking lot, 109 E. Washington St., with the first scheduled for Aug. 3.