Church of the Week: Saving souls, spreading gospel

Evangelist Louise S. Smith and Bishop Jimmie L. Smith, Pastor of Refuge Temple of Jesus Christ. (Tribune Photos by Ronald Gray)

For 30 years, The Refuge Temple of Jesus Christ has worked to save souls and spread the gospel in whatever location they have found themselves. This Sunday, July 13, the church will celebrate that service at the final program for their 30th church and pastor anniversary.

“I feel wonderful about celebrating 30 years of serving the Lord and serving people,” said Suffragan Bishop Jimmie Smith. “It’s a great honor and a great achievement.”

Smith started Refuge out of his home, where he taught the Bible to his wife and two neighbors — a mother and son.

“We just continued on from what we learned from the ministry we came from,” remembered Evangelist and Assistant Pastor Louise S. Smith, the pastor’s wife. “It was more of a learning process than a church — studying the word of God and growing so we could go further.”

By the time they gained six members, Refuge moved to a storefront in Southwest Philadelphia — at 71st and Woodland Avenue. Here, evangelist Smith remembers that a woman and six children joined. They stayed at this location for 10 years and then moved to a firehouse turned church at 51st and Sansom streets. At this point, the church had grown to 125 members.

“It was the word of God, the spirit of God, and people that were willing to be faithful, committed members to Christ as well as to the church,” said Bishop Smith of Refuge’s growth.

The church stayed at 51st and Sansom streets for 17 years but had to move to a larger location to accommodate the growing membership. Now, in its latest location at 1629 S. 28th St., they have “75 members on the roll,” meaning all of these members are not active members. So, they are working to rebuild.

“When you move from one part of the city to another part, that’s one thing,” said evangelist Smith. “People don’t like to move with you but the Lord has always filled the church back up with souls. Now we are looking for souls to save in this area.”

She stressed that it was not just about the membership, however, but more about helping people.

“I’m looking forward to saving souls, not so much to the church but every neighborhood and let people know the Lord cares about them,” she added.

Bishop Smith shared a similar view.

“Our main interest right now is the neighborhood especially, but [also] the souls of men everywhere to come and give the Word of God a chance,” he said. “We are struggling now with so many adverse conditions in our neighborhoods, in our city [and] in the world. We have drug problems, we have problems with promiscuity. All these things must be addressed. And the only way they can be addressed properly is that we would have to encourage and get people to come and expose themselves to the truth of God’s word.”

Smith explained that Refuge is currently in its preparatory stages to carry out such a mission. He said for the “late summer or early fall,” the church is planning outside services in their parking lot, so they can “take the Word out to the people.”

There is also a vision to reintroduce community services in the church.

Evangelist Smith said Refuge operated a food bank for three years out of its West Philadelphia building, which she said they plan to offer in their new South Philadelphia neighborhood “as soon as we get the [building] up to code.”

They have also offered counseling for recovering drug addicts, which Smith said they would “like to start back because people need help, and they can’t do it on their own.”

Another main goal of Refuge is to engage the community’s youth. Evangelist Smith said the church is “planning to start an after-school program for working parents and children who have no where to go after school,” once the building is brought to code, probably by next year.

In the meantime, the congregation does push out into the community. Every year, around Christmas, the Women’s Ministry organizes a visit to women’s homeless shelters, where they give out hats and gloves. And every month, they minister to their neighbors, especially those who may be going through hard times.

“We do go out and visit the sick and the people on the block — some are on the verge of losing their home,” said Women’s Ministry president, evangelist Andrea Williams. “We go randomly, around the community, or a church member may identify someone who needs prayer and we will go to their house and pray for them.”

In the midst of the current work and the works in progress, several members said they plan to stay put and be a part of the church’s future.

“I ask God, when he takes me, he takes me away from here,” said Marvin Saddler, a member since the founding of the church. “I don’t want to be any place else.”

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