Working to Change ‘Cabana’

Casa Grande

By Cadet Robert Reardon – 

When you enter Casa Grande, Ariz., the only outward sign of The Salvation Army’s presence is the local thrift store. You have to venture inside an area known as the “Cabana” to see evidence of the serious spiritual warfare going on there.

Just over a year ago, this neighborhood was deteriorating, with two or three gang hangouts, four crack houses, and a future as dark as the Arizona night sky. A local group sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of Casa Grande decided to claim this neighborhood back for God. The effort wasn’t an easy one. Opposition from local thugs mounted. “Seeds of Hope, Inc.” was born from the determination of Rev. Rick Lemberg and other supporters.

In September 1995, Captain Tom Ford was appointed to open a corps in Casa Grande. Looking around at the local ministries, he found Seeds of Hope. Within time, they formed a partnership, and one of the homes in the middle of the Cabana became their community center, a light in the midst of darkness.

Since then, there has been a significant decrease in gang activity, no evidence of the crack houses, and families are beginning to come together again. Obviously, God has his hand in it, but he is using the Army and Seeds of Hope to do it.

One secret is living among the people. Corps Assistant Darren Stratton and staff member Dave Brubaker and his family have chosen to live in the area. Developing relationships with their neighbors, they are encouraging residents to revitalize their neighborhood. Many volunteers assist daily in children’s programs such as girls’ and boys’ clubs, Bible clubs, Y.P.L. and Singing Company, as well as other exciting programs. Eight teenagers attended the Southwest Divisional Youth Councils, and 20 children participated in the Divisional Singing Company Competition.

Another secret is prayer. Every Thursday morning, Ford, Stratton and the staff of Seeds of Hope meet on a hill in the center of the Cabana to pray for the neighborhood. Later, they pray with another group for the town and specific ministries.

Teamwork. Sixteen churches are committed to helping The Salvation Army and Seeds of Hope with financial and/or volunteer participation. Denominational lines have been crossed to fill the community’s needs.

Though this project alone would merit praise from anyone desiring change in people’s lives, there is more. Project HOPE (Helping Our People Excel) joins with St. Vincent de Paul, a benevolence program combining emergency coordination with a six-days-a-week hot lunch program at a local Baptist church, and a Sunday meal served in a local park in conjunction with the church’s ministry.

Praise God for all he is doing in Casa Grande!

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