Written by: Jeff Stanger
Southern Indiana Town Experiences Transformation
In a small, forgotten Indiana town, sixty people gather to worship God in a renovated old storefront. As they take their seats, a man wearing a black t-shirt with white lettering that says “Neighborhood Dope Dealer” takes the stage. The “D” in the word dope has been drawn over in red with the letter “H.” The dope dealer is now the hope dealer. The symbolism isn’t somebody’s clever idea for a novelty shirt. It’s the beautiful, gritty reality of Christ’s redemptive work in the life of Brian Patterson, the co-pastor of Rebuilt Church.
Really, in all honesty, ten years ago Brian and I would have been enemies. Now, not only is he one of my best friends, but he’s my preacher.
To understand the story of Rebuilt, you have to go back a few years to a calling God laid on the heart of John Preston. “I had a dream one night about this ministry. God woke me up in the morning, early and said Thursday Church will work in Bloomfield. And I shared that dream vision with some other folks and immediately a lot of people came around and said we want to help you with this. This sounds like a great ministry.”
Even with some affirmation and early interest, John humbly acknowledges that God was driving this movement in Southern Indiana. “You know there’s a point where you just have to resign yourself to the truth that if God doesn’t make this happen I can’t make this happen. And God was the one that actually brought all these people together because I’m by nature not a very outgoing person. And so when all these people started showing up I knew it was God doing this because it was just not me at all.”
To understand why Rebuilt works, you have to go even farther back. Although the growth of Christianity in the first and second century was steady, it really began to turn a corner at the time of the Plague of Cyprian. Around 256 AD, a plague ravished the Roman Empire. As the deaths mounted and fear became rampant, the healthy began to flee the city. The sick and the dying became disposable.
But not to the Christians. They risked their health, their families, and their lives to minister to the people. The Gospel spread rapidly. And a phrase commonly heard on the streets of Rome was “look how they love one another.”
Bloomfield isn’t Rome at the height of its glory. A small town, in a rural county, in Southern Indiana, some might argue it never had much glory. The per capita income is a paltry $20,676. Fourteen percent of the people live below the poverty line. And it is battling modern plagues —the opioid epidemic, other drugs and historically high alcohol addiction.
Though violent crime is low, theft is 74% higher than the national average. High poverty, high crime, and high drug use are causing people to flee the town. In the last three years, the population declined almost 8%. The sick and the dying had become disposable. But then Rebuilt Church opened. And look how they love each other.
It is evident from the moment you walk into Rebuilt Church. Everyone gathers for a meal before the service. People who might have once been mortal enemies now sit down with each other every Thursday night. And that’s no exaggeration. Mark Parker is a retired Indiana State Trooper and served on the team that launched the church. He described the transformation in the lives of the people of Rebuilt. “I think it’s beautiful, I mean one of our guys here, I arrested him around 2002. The night that he was getting baptized, he took me around to his family— his mom his dad—and said this is this is the guy that arrested me! You know, where else could that happen except in a church?”
It’s even more unlikely, considering co-pastor, Brian’s history. Ensnared by drugs, he was arrested 17 times and facing 50 years in prison. While waiting to learn his fate, he had an encounter with Jesus. And he learned his own life wasn’t disposable. Now he can share that message with both the people who see themselves as disposable, or the ones who would write them off.
Mark shared, “Really in all honesty, ten years ago Brian and I would have been enemies. Now, not only is he one of my best friends, but he’s my preacher. You know hearts can change. And it’s amazing not just mine but theirs too. And I don’t think ten years ago either my heart or their hearts would have been in the right place to have those friendships.”
So when former enemies finish their meal, they make their way to the service. What strikes you is that you are immersed in some of the most honest, heart felt authentic worship you’ve ever witnessed. There is no pretense here. After some music, Brian calls on people to share a praise. One woman shares that she’s thankful that another attendee didn’t have to go to jail. He’s sitting two rows behind her. Nobody gasps or inches away from the man. He doesn’t get offended that he was just called out in front of the room. Maybe he thinks everybody knows anyway. Maybe he’s too grateful to care. But one thing is certain, as everyone claps for this man. Whatever he did, he’s not being judged here. He’s being welcomed home.
He’s welcome here because the Neighborhood Hope Dealer beats the streets and talks to people. And they relate to him on a very deep level because he’s been where they are now.
“This often has become a stopping point for them,” he said. “And I think people who never would have set foot into a church, now are stepping into our church. Many of them are staying and we see people come and go. But I truly believe that true seeds of faith are being planted.”
He’s excited to see those seeds grow as well. “We’re seeing people that we thought would never come back again. People are making dramatic breaks away from the sin. The bondage of sin is being broken in their lives. You know we don’t walk it out perfectly but we see a group of people who are growing up out of the ashes of destruction and they’re being born again. It’s really just amazing to see those people living out their faith. I believe this is just the beginning of this ministry in this town because a lot of people still don’t really know about Rebuilt and we’re basically underground.”
That impact is being felt far beyond the wall of the church as well. Mark shared about a call they received from a probation officer on behalf of a prisoner who had been waiting for a Bible from Rebuilt. “How often does a guy who’s sitting in jail for meth charges reach out to his probation officer and say ‘hey can you get a hold of this preacher and tell him I want my Bible.’ Come on that’s cool.”
When Jesus performed his first miracle, he turned water —something common and unremarkable — into wine. He transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary. When he chose his first disciples, he selected uneducated fishermen. He went to parties with sinners and prostitutes. He had a knack for finding the least loved, least admired, least cared for people and turning their lives into extraordinary ones.
That’s exactly what is happening in this Southern Indiana town. Bloomfield used to be the kind of place that you stumble onto on the way to somewhere else. But now the word is getting out. It has life, it has a pulse. Pastors and worship leaders in faraway places are talking about this church in Bloomfield. People want to visit. And once they visit, they want to come back. Rebuilt Church is changing lives and slowly transforming a town —all because they don’t believe in disposable people.