The 1930’s book “The Little Engine That Could” is a classic American children’s story of a little train engine that believes he can do the workload of much larger train engines. The little train’s faith prevails as he arduously but triumphantly proves his ability. Similarly, South Philly’s Christian Compassion Baptist Church is a small congregation laboring hard to do big work to serve its community; the Rev. Samuel Slaffey is the senior pastor.
Slaffey, 72, is a man of deep compassion for his community, he earnestly serves to uplift the down trodden and motley citizens that most would rather dismiss and ignore. A person’s socio-economic status means little to him. Slaffey is motivated to save souls for Jesus.
“I’ve been pastoring [for] about 32 years, but not at the same church. I’ve been pastoring [at Christian Compassion] for 28 years,” Slaffey said. Prior to serving at Christian Compassion, Slaffey said, “I was [pasturing] at a church called Little David Baptist Church.”
Slaffey was ordained and licensed at West Philadelphia Assembly for Christ, in 1970.
Jesus was harshly criticized for the type of questionable people he associated with to deliver his Gospel message of salvation — lepers, prostitutes, corrupt tax collectors, drunkards, mental ill individuals, ex-offenders, brawlers, etc. On a weekly basis, Slaffey hits the streets to personally reach out these and other lost segments of society to mentor, to instill hope, and to positively transform their lives via God’s Holy Word. Such ministry work is not for the timid or faint of heart, it requires a genuine compassion and zeal to love people beyond their faults, to help them become productive members of society.
“Basically, for a number of years, we have been reaching out to what people might call the underclass, the homeless — guys that might be sleeping in automobiles; people coming off drugs, we work with them, and gangs, the Bloods and the Crips,” Slaffey said.
Nationally, organized criminal gangs like the Bloods, Crips, and the Latin Kings are some of the most notorious, violent and ruthless criminals plaguing America’s inner city communities, often attracting young recruits for their menacing crime sprees. According to Slaffey, “A lot of these guys don’t know their mothers or fathers, and what we would do is, we take food to the crack house to build up a relationship with them, and that way we’re able to talk with them to tell them about the Lord. We have these outreaches [into the community] where people can come and get clothes for free, while we feed them, and while they’re eating at the tables, we have persons talking to them about things in the Bible about the Lord.”
One of Slaffey’s greatest mentors is the Rev. Dr. Willie Richardson, senior pastor of Christian Stronghold Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. For more than a decade, Slaffey has faithfully taught pastoral classes for area clergy leaders at Christian Stronghold.
Betty Slaffey, 65, the first lady, is just as compassionate and ministry driven. She has been serving in ministry since her salvation experience at age 12.
Responding to a question about the challenges of serving the downtrodden, disenfranchised and dismissed segments of society as first lady of a church, she said, “I never considered them challenges, I thought maybe it was just ministry, not challenges. Pleasing God and trying to get people to know God, to love Him and to be loyal to Him,” has been her sole motivation to serve others in ministry. If there is a major challenge, she admits it may be the lack of resources to do the desired work of the ministry.
In March 2013, the Slaffeys will celebrate 38 years of marriage. The pastor’s wife offered some advice on marital success for new and seasoned married couples, “Go to marriage seminars, couples retreats, and learn all you can about how to be submissive and to be obedient to the Word of God.”
Blondeena Sessoms has been a member for 28 years.
“I am a Deaconess, I’m an Usher,” and she assumes other supportive leadership roles as assigned by Pastor Slaffey. Sessoms admires her pastor because, “he explains what he says. When he reads the scriptures, he explains what it means, and where to go in the Bible to find it for yourself.”
Sessoms urges those seeking a new church home to consider Christian Compassion because, “it’s a spiritual church. The preacher, the Rev. Slaffey, is for real. During Bible studies, he explains what the Word means, so you can learn the Bible for yourself.”
Sessoms was proud of their November clothing give-away that assisted local families and individuals with free coats and other gently-used apparel.
Marcia Hughes, 54, is a staunch supporter and member of Christian Compassion,
“I’ve been a member for 23 years,” she said. “Right now, I am Acting Administrative Assistant. At one period of time, I was the leader of the Singles Ministry, Biblical Counseling, and also, I was a mentor with the Amachi Project.”
Amachi is a mentoring organization developed to provide children of incarcerated parents with positive role models. Since its founding in 2000, Amachi has served more than 300,000 children. In 2011, the Amachi Expansion for Military and Civilian Familes (AEMCF) program was created to serve children of military families. Locally, Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, former Mayor of Philadelphia, leads Amachi.
Hughes laments over how attrition in church membership has limited Christian Compassion’s ministry service in the community. “At one time, we had a number of different committees to perform [different] ministries, but now we don’t have the number of people [to staff just] one of those committees,” she said. “Not even to mention the money it takes to run ministries…[Rev. Slaffey] just knows that this is what God wants him to do, and he leaves it in God’s Hand. So he just makes the plan for things [in the community] to get done.”
According to Hughes, over the years, many of the associate ministers, pastors and ministry leaders that Slaffey has groomed at Christian Compassion have moved on to serve in leadership and pastoral roles at other churches, leaving much fewer members to do much greater work of the ministry.
Iberia Tinsley got very emotional and teary-eyed when she reflected on her years of membership at Christian Compassion. She has been a member since 2001 and admires the fact that Rev. Slaffey is bold in his outreach to reach lost souls — whether it's going into crack houses to feed and minister the Gospel to addicts, or leading Bible study and other fellowships with local gang members. Tinsley likes that her pastor is compassionate and loving in his service to all people, inspite of their negative circumstances.
“The church makes me feel like a part of a family,” she said. “It’s my second family. The pastor is like a father, a grandfather. [The Slaffeys] showed me love. They were there with the ups and downs of my husband’s death, with my situation of being homeless — [they have] helped me with a lot. Even with my kids, [when they] got locked up, helping me through all that. Without them, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Christian Compassion Baptist Church, though it's a small God-fearing congregation, is the little engine that knows it can succeed uphill to make great impact in the community.