Impacting Suffolk for God

Published 12:07 am Saturday, February 20, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week.

A casual drive past most Suffolk churches on a Sunday afternoon reveals that King’s pronouncement still holds true. For the most part, blacks still attend black churches, and whites still attend white churches.

But the first division of the church in Suffolk, according to historical records, wasn’t racial — it was denominational.

The first churches in the area were parishes under the Church of England. When Puritans entered the area in the 1640s, they were persecuted. The same was true of the first Quakers, who were thrown from their homes, in the 1670s. When the Baptists came to the Nansemond River area in 1770, “They were seized, dragged to the river and dipped into it until nearly drowned,” says Dot Dalton. “They were ordered to depart and never return.”

The state of the Christ’s church in Suffolk is of special importance to Dalton. As president of Impact Suffolk, she has a heart for bringing God’s people together to work toward His goals. The division today is more of a racial than a denominational one, but its impact on the work of the church is at least as harmful, she says.

“The division in the body of Christ is terrible,” she says, and Impact Suffolk is working to bridge the divide. “We want to be a blessing to the city and bring the churches together to do that blessing.”

The effort started in 1995, after Dalton retired. She and Linda Saunders, the former owner of Suffolk’s Christian bookstore, began praying for direction about how God wanted them to work for Him. Soon, they were led to organize dinners and lunches for pastors and Christian leaders from around the city. Within a year, the group was leading monthly prayer meetings at Macedonia AME Church, Suffolk’s first black church.

Since then, the organization has held citywide tent revivals, neighborhood block parties, kids’ carnivals, community gospel programs, food giveaways, youth concerts and dramas.

A 2008 Thanksgiving food distribution drew churches from every segment of Suffolk’s society, which set up booths and distributed various types of food items to hundreds of city residents who needed the help.

A March for Jesus, held each June for the past few years, has given Christians from churches throughout the area the chance to “proclaim Jesus before heaven and Earth,” according to the organization’s promotional material.

Last year, Impact Suffolk focused its efforts on presenting a drama, “Heaven’s Gates & Hell’s Flames,” a performance run by Reality Outreach Ministries that consists of several short vignettes in which people die and go either to heaven or to hell, and follows their reactions after they discover where they are.

The evangelical message is intended to impact people’s lives, both here on Earth and eternally.

During three days of presentations, Dalton says, 2,530 people watched the drama, and an estimated 445 people made decisions for Christ, based on the cards they filled out after each night’s service.

“It was just glorious for all of us to see those people coming forward,” Dalton says.

There were 35 Suffolk-area churches involved in the program, with 119 people participating as cast, crew, counselors, ushers and in other positions. For Dalton, one of the most exciting parts of the program was the prayer room, where Christians gathered before and during the program each night to pray for decisions by and blessings on those who attended. The attitude of united worship, she says, was exhilarating.

It was exactly the type of unified effort that Impact Suffolk was founded to encourage, and Dalton and the other Impact Suffolk directors hope to continue to build on the foundations by planning periodic praise and fellowship gatherings throughout the coming year.

“I’d love to see that worship coming up, because I believe Suffolk is supposed to be the beginning of a revival,” she says. “We need more of that kind of fellowship, where we not just preaching — we’re just singing and worshipping the Lord.”

Suffolk’s churches still have their divisions, Dalton says, but the exciting thing for her has been watching people from all socioeconomic backgrounds come together under the one God.

“I’m just praying that as a result of this, this city is going to see a move of God,” Dalton says. “I just hope that I see it in my lifetime.”