If you’re looking for a church that is disengaged from the surrounding community, then the Walk in the Light Christian Center is the wrong place for you.
Founded several years ago by Apostle Darien Thomas, Walk in the Light Christian Center is dedicated to community outreach. While its members hold traditional worship services and activities within the proverbial four walls, they often topple them like the proverbial walls of Jericho in dealing with the needs of their neighbors.
“We are a church without walls. Most of our ministry is done in the community, and we have partners throughout Southwest Philadelphia,” said Thomas, whose church sits at 3751 Island Ave. in the Eastwick section.
These partners include re-entry groups, community improvement organizations, neighborhood coalitions and several others that organize to address specific needs and concerns of nearby residents and those beyond Southwest Philadelphia.
“We are looking to eradicate the blight and the ignorance that is in our communities; we believe poverty is a curse,” said Thomas.
“We realize that 30 percent of our residents live under the poverty level. We are looking to bring clean green jobs and technology to the Southwest area [and] affordable houses, and so we work together with [City} Council persons Kenyatta Johnson and Jannie Blackwell and other groups and organizations to bring trades,” he said.
Growing up in Eastwick, Thomas played high school basketball and hoped to establish a career as a professional athlete. His dream of playing professional sports ended when he was injured.
It was the trades that made the difference in his life.
“I thought basketball was going to be my career but I had a basketball coach that would take us into homes and teach us how to sheet rock, paint, how to do different skills. So I feel that if you are going to help someone, you don’t just give them a fish; you teach them how to fish,” said Thomas.
Thomas is no stranger to community residents, activists and advocates in the area, as he often attends local anti-blight and crime rallies, community meetings and neighborhood improvement events.
That part of his job is personal for Thomas, who says he is a fourth generation Eastwick resident.
“My parents were taken off the land years ago,” he said. “Over 10,000 people were forced off the land, 110 businesses and 37 churches all moved off the land for redevelopment of the area.”
Thomas said that developers did build some new homes but never completed the transformation of the area as promised, leaving acres of undeveloped land.
“We don’t have movie theaters; we don’t have efficient supermarkets; we don’t have recreation for children; and we have open fields — acres of acres of land [unused],” the pastor noted.
Continuing to lead efforts to develop Eastwick is one of the goals of Walk in the Light.
Following the example of Jesus, Thomas wants to take his ministry mobile to reach those suffering from the conditions in their community. It is a type of community outreach that isn’t new to Thomas.
“I think I got the call [to preach] when participating in street evangelism. My pastor was one that didn’t stay inside. We were out there on Saturdays with the bullhorn preaching and passing out tracks,” he said.
“I just felt the passion to share the word, to make sure that they had understanding, that they had wisdom and that we as a people and as a culture could have the word of God and prosper out of it,” he added.
Thomas said the call was renewed when he went back to the community to continue his work.
“I think that Christ, when he received his calling, it said that the spirit of the Lord was upon me and the first thing he said was to preach the gospel to the poor,” said Thomas.
It was during a missionary trip to West Africa 14 years ago that Thomas came up with the name for his ministry.
“We were looking to provide people in Africa shoes and we called it Walk in the Light Shoes. Years later I didn’t know I would be pastoring and it occurred to me that God gave me that name while I was in Africa so when we started ministering we called it Walk in the Light,” he said.
Elder Vivian Carson has been with Walk in the Light for nine years and was ordained an elder pastor by Thomas.
Carson said she first met Thomas when he taught Bible study at a local senior citizens center that she attended.
“I liked the fact that he was a good teacher and I just sat there and I listened and this is where God led me,” said Carson.
As praise and worship leader for Walk in the Light, Carson says that sometimes things can be challenging but she loves the people and ministry.
“This is my desire that the hearts of the people be turned toward worship because that is what it’s about, worshipping God,” she said.
Keeping with the churches outreach efforts, Carson went to minister in Africa and returned to start a food pantry for residents in need of a little extra help.
Ann Strickland, a member for three years, said she first became acquainted with Thomas at a community meeting.
“When I heard him pray at a community meeting, I knew he was a man of God and I wanted to be a part of his ministry,” she said.
“His call from God is one that goes outside the ministry, in the community rebuilding the old waste places. He works hard and he ministers not only in the church but to seniors and other people. He has a heart for people,” she said.
Not only do the members of Walk in the Light Christian Center make it a point to reach out to people in the community, they also open their doors to outside groups to use the facilities.
“We also have community groups and organizations that use our facilities,” said Thomas.
Walk in the Light Christian Center seeks to provide the community not only with biblical teachings based on the principles of Jesus Christ, but also with the information and resources necessary for its elevation and prosperity through educational workshops, training in financial literacy, workplace development and life-skills instructions.