By Tom Hocking
Do you like malls? Enjoy window-shopping or people watching? When the weather is bad, do you walk for exercise in the enclosed shopping area? Personally, I do my best to avoid malls–which I call the quintessential temples of capitalism. Around the Christmas holidays, of course many more of you join me in my MDS–“Mall Dread Syndrome.”
But then . . . there’s Pastor Chris Ball. I got to visit Chris’s home in Alaska for the very first time in November. Within hours of my plane touching down in Anchorage, guess where my boyhood friend took me? Here is a hint–it wasn’t Denali National Park (home of North America’s tallest mountain, Mount McKinley) and it didn’t involve a moose, a glacier, or even Sarah Palin. No, Chris took me to 800 East Dimond Boulevard–the address for the Dimond Center Mall (whoopee).
Now, despite my chronic MDS, I have been in quite a few malls in my life–the married portion of it at any rate. But until November 4, I had never been to a mall with a Grace Brethren church. But sure enough, just down from the Studio FX Styling Salon, Rainbow Earth Jewelry, and Dimond Burger Express, there it was: the very inviting, modern, high-tech Dimond Grace Fellowship.
I have to tell you that I was astonished by what I saw. Dimond Grace is literally in “the marketplace” of its community and has created a space that is both visually attractive and contemporary–it fits well into its mall setting. On the other hand, it is unabashedly counter-cultural in its message–both spoken and demonstrated.
Most mall tenants are retailers–selling things at a profit. The pastor and people of Dimond Grace, on the other hand, are redistributors. What they have freely received, they freely give. They view the ministries of kindness and mercy as their call, duty, joy, and privilege. For the past couple years, the church has given away thousands of cups of coffee, hand-warmers, socks, “cup-of-soup” bowls, candles, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, Bibles, and hours of conversation and prayer. The church also invites nearly a dozen other area churches to co-sponsor its annual Free Garage Sale, that provides tangible help and relational support to people in need.
This spiritual family sold their facility in 2002 and moved into the mall in order to follow the mandate of Matthew 28:19-20. It is their passion is to “daily connect people with Jesus and His Great Commission.”
The result? Pastor Chris notes that they now have as many visitors in a single week as they used to have in an entire year. Every day the church provides a quiet haven for all kinds of people: frazzled shoppers, drug pushers, curious seekers, hit men, social outcasts, prostitutes, and people of all sorts of ethnicities. Presently, this unique spiritual family is composed of Native Alaskans, Russians, Filipinos, Indonesians, Mexicans, Malaysians, Canadians, African Americans, and a minority of folk with a white European background. Vive la difference!
So, if you are suffering from MDS, may I suggest a treatment plan? Fly to Anchorage and allow Pastor Chris to show you how a trip to the mall can shape eternity. (He’ll also offer free housing, a meal of reindeer sausage, and a moose-sighting or two!) Dimond Grace is a mission outpost that relies on the prayers and financial support of God’s people to continue.
The 2009-2011 moderator of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Tom Hocking is challenging Grace Brethren congregations in North America to unite in a commitment to make disciples through training leaders, planting churches, and adopting holistic ministries. He is the pastor of the Bellflower Brethren Church in Bellflower, Calif.
For more information about Dimond Grace Fellowship, Anchorage, Alaska, to guide your prayers and giving, call Chris Ball at 907-333-2484 or see the church website at dimondgrace.org. (If you’d like to join the church online for worship, there are instructions on the site to access the service live. Just click in any Sunday at 11 a.m. Alaska Standard Time.)