Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday the building that houses the Catalyst Community slowly comes to life. The handful of dedicated volunteers enter the building and begin the process that has, over the past four years, improved the lives of many in the Massey Hill Community.
One man, who asked not to be identifi ed, busies himself in the kitchen, while David Clark gases up the van and heads out on his route. The Price family moves around like the well-oiled machine they are — making copies, setting up tables, preparing lessons and their hearts for the evening to come.
At the center stands Pastor James Sizemore, who, along with his band of brothers, founded the Catalyst Ministry four years ago. With all the preparation ready, they wait. It isn’t a long wait.
The van, which Clark, the karate sensei, drives on nightly routes pulls back in front of the building located on Gillespie Street. Almost before it comes to a stop, the doors open and children, with smiles a mile wide, pile out of the van. Sometimes Clark takes several trips, but the result is the same. The children enter their sanctuary, a place where they found a family many did not know they were missing.
The Massey Hill Community has a long history. Over the years it has evolved from a mill village to a less than desirable neighborhood. While politicians talk about cleaning it up and improving the homes, many of which are in poor condition, the people who live in the community go about their daily lives. For some, it is merely a stop. They light there for a month or two and then move on. For others, it is home. Whether the people in the community are there for the long haul or just a brief stint, the volunteers at Catalyst want to make a difference in their lives. To hear Sizemore tell it, it’s a God thing.
“Catalyst is an odd little place,” said Sizemore, as he refl ected back on the start of the outreach. “I was unhappy with regular church. I felt like people’s needs were not being met at regular churches — whether that be physical, spiritual or mental.
“The particular church I was attending tried to implement some of the things we do at Catalyst but it didn’t work out. I felt the Lord tell me to step out on faith — and that’s what I did.”
Sizemore was joined by a core group of fi ve other volunteers and the ministry has evolved since then.
“We did not know where we were going to go. But we wanted to go somewhere we could make a difference. I would drive around town praying and looking, and I happened upon Massey Hill and knew this was it. It was really a God thing.”
When the group set up their outreach in a house on Gillespie Street, the community really didn’t know what to think about them. There are 20 some churches within walking distance of the ministry, but many people in the community do not feel welcome there, according to Sizemore.
“It took about two years of hard work and building trust for them to understand that when we say we accept you, we accept you — not matter who you are, what you’ve done — because they have been turned away by so many churches. They’ve gotten to a place of understanding that we are there for a purpose,” he said.
That purpose is the intentional living of faith. There is no paid staff. The church does not take up an offering, but rather operates on the belief that God will provide what they need. The core group of volunteers are consistent. The people in the community know that when the doors are open, they will be there with arms wide open.
The outreach has a number of programs under its umbrella. There is a recovery program for people dealing with substance abuse. There are parenting classes for those parents who want to particiapte. There are women’s Bible studies and men’s prayer groups. There is an outreach to the Hispanic population in the community. There’s a Sunday worship and Bible study. And then there is the children’s outreach. That may be the heart of Catalyst.
The children’s ministry brings children off the streets three times a week. They get a hot meal, are given help with their school work, are offered classes like gardening and karate. They participate in a youth group, book clubs and fi eld trips to the library and other places of interest in the community.And every Sunday morning they are taught about God — but only after they are fed a hot breakfast.
“Every time you see Jesus presented in scripture — it usually revolves around food — and the fact that he is feeding people physicially and spiritually. We honestly believe in the case of the population we work with they aren’t going to hear one word you say about God until they have something to eat. Basic human needs supercede a lot of times the presentation of the Gospel. We feed people because that’s what Jesus did.”
And the feeding doesn’t stop at the ministry. Every Friday during the school year, volunteers in the outreach load up the van and pack backpacks full of food from the Second Harvest Food Bank. The food goes to Cumberland Road School, where it is dispersed to children who may not otherwise have anything to eat over the weekend.
“Each backpack is fi lled with enough food to meet the child’s nutritional needs over the weekend,” said Jennifer Price, who along with her daughter, distributes the food at the school.
The lack of food is only one of the needs the organization seeks to meet. They also seek to provide a sense of stability and hope in what can sometimes be a hopeless environment. The children are drawn to the volunteers. Price and her husband Curtis are constantly reaching out to give hugs and praise to the children. They respond with smiles, and with hard work.
“It comes down to the core of what you believe,” said Jennifer. “If you believe that the whole purpose of life is to love your neighbor as yourself, then this makes sense.”
The Price family spends countless hours in the community, but for them, it is what they are called to do. “We are blessed and are able and very willing to be here. We believe it is our priority.”
That comes out in their interaction with the children who fl ock around them. Since the ministry has been in place, they’ve seen the lives of children change. Students who were struggling in school, are now succeeding. Children who were afraid to speak, now run up for hugs. There are high school students who are reading college-level books and discussing them with intelligence.
Some of that comes from the discipline inspired by Clark, who uses karate as more than just a weapon.
“I emphasize honor, respect and discipline — hopefully it gives them a foothold on things they are not getting at home. Some of the kids don’t have dads at home. Some have mothers at home that just are not mothers,” he said. “We try our best to fi ll in the gaps to give them a whole life. We offer them things that in other situations they wouldn’t have a chance in the world to take part in.”
Clark is living his ministry. He moved from Raleigh and moved into the house where the outreach initially started. It hasn’t been easy. His house has been broken into three times. His work truck has been sacked.
“It’s not my stuff anyway,” he said. “The Lord gives it to us. If it helps somebody else, then it helps them. I love teaching. I love working with the kids. There’s nothing better than working with them especially when you are teaching them something and they haven’t quite caught on. When it snaps in place, the look on their face is just priceless. I don’t think I could do it without that.”
So he lives in the community, and watches out for the children and their families. And, he intentionally lives his faith. “Truth to be told, back in the day, these kids could have been me,” he said.
For Pastor Sizemore, he doesn’t wish for more money for the ministry, rather his prayer is that more people would open their hearts and spend some time making a difference in the lives of others. “We need people to come along side us. It’s easy to pay someone’s light bill. It’s a lot more diffi cult to walk beside them through the whole journey.”