At the 11 o’clock prayer service on a recent Sunday morning, Divine Glory Ministry Pastor Darnita Hill has cranked the stereo all the way over to red. She wants the high-decibel blast produced by her Shekinah Glory Live CD, combined with her own amplified voice, to penetrate the grey stuccoed face of Sunny’s Bar, around the corner on Chicago Avenue. Past efforts have borne fruit. “We had one man walking home from Sunny’s who heard us and almost got hit by a car crossing the street,” she recalled. “He’s been coming to our service ever since.”
Divine Glory—composed of Pastor Hill, her husband, Demetrius, and her brother-in-law Hakeem and sister Joanne—has been operating out of the vulnerable heart of South Minneapolis, at 707 East Lake Street, since 2005. Street-focused ministries intent on stemming the hopelessness and sorrow that tend to infect poor communities have long targeted the area. In 1999, Bloomington-based Bethany International (BI) opened an outreach center at 707 East Lake, and in 2002, Bethany turned the center into a coffee shop called Urban Jungle. The purpose, according to BI’s website, was “to welcome the community in and provide a place of hope and peace in a chaotic neighborhood.” Divine Glory sublets the space and plans to expand into a vacant building on the other side of the alley toward Columbus Avenue.
Renovation and jobs, epitomized by the remodeled Sears building, and the opening of the Midtown Sheraton, are slowly transforming the area. But just three blocks to the west—where Pastor Hill is exhorting passersby to “Give Jesus’ love a try!”—Third Precinct crime reports for the month of May show a continuing pattern of narcotics and robbery busts.
Many people within earshot of Divine Glory’s industrial-strength sound system find the challenge of escaping the street compounded by the prospect of facing an unforgiving God. For Pastor Hill, however, reaching the recalcitrant, the doubters and the just plain angry is the central focus of her ministry. “We understand the concept of love in both word and deed,” she says. Raised by a grandmother in South Minneapolis, Pastor Hill turned to the streets for support, spending seven years in and out of shelters and fighting alcoholism. “I liken myself to Moses who was told by God to go back to Egypt,” she says. “I was sent to help battered women. We have people who are heroin addicts, and we get homeless people who come in. Those are the ones God draws to us.”
Out on Lake Street, the thunderous din has drawn a mixed response. Two Hispanic men passing by on the opposite sidewalk glance over but do not break stride. A tall, unshaven white man in a baseball cap, pushing a grocery pram, hesitates outside the door before continuing east. Two African-American women pause, linger and exchange smiles before continuing down the sidewalk. The driver of the westbound No. 21 bus, waiting at the light, shoots a brief, startled look toward the door before accelerating through the intersection, the exhaust completely obliterated by the blast from the church’s speakers. “Press in!” Pastor Hill booms, “You can press in. God is here. Somebody needs help with alcohol abuse. Somebody selling drugs on the street gonna step his feet on this ground. I don’t care what mistakes you’ve made, God wants to love you.”
A casual visitor to Divine Glory will quickly see how the ministry’s willingness to turn rhetoric into action has set it apart from other more established organizations. Demetrius’ skills as a welder and fabricator allowed him to fashion a concert platform for use in the annual Hallelujah Jam, held every July 4th at Peavey Park, between 23rd Street and 24th Street in South Minneapolis. On one recent Sunday, Pastor Hill, accompanied by Hakeem, Joanne and several children set up an old- fashioned barbecue feed to raise funds for the church’s community outreach program. During the week, the Hills will visit as many Minneapolis charities as they can, stopping at Caring and Sharing, the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, and the Harriet Tubman House to offer prayer and encouragement. Just getting folks to church, and away from homes wracked by stress or drugs, sometimes requires loading their single vehicle—a Jeep Cherokee—to capacity. On those days when there is no more room, they will pay cab fare.
While Pastor Hill paces the stage, Demetrius works the streets. The Rockford, Ill., native, who spent time in jail, has woven his own experiences into his message. “When I first got saved, I still had no home,” he said. “You can feed people with clothing and a message, but their souls can still be lost.” When he is not serving as Divine Glory’s accountant, evangelist and handyman, he gets involved in other related projects. On Thursday evenings he and the Divine Glory ministry team lead a Bible study at a local halfway house. Like his wife, he is a believer in emphasizing a point, and he is not long into a lesson before he is on his feet, sweat-soaked, finger stabbing the air, neck bulging. “Faith to faith, strength to strength, glory to glory,” he says. “We go to the places where the enemy is at work. Paul said that he became all things to all men; we don’t have a lot of money, so we go where we’re needed.”
Wrapping up her service, Pastor Hill cuts to the heart of the problem. “Praise Jesus!” she says, pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. “He’s a doctor when you’re sick, he’s a lawyer when you need somebody to defend you.” Her voice rising, she summons a final burst of energy. “You are not hopeless. Every day we get a brand new mercy. God didn’t give you nothing just to let it die. This trouble shall pass, this heartache shall pass.”
Despite recently losing its lease at 706 E. Lake St., Divine Glory will continue to engage in evangelism and outreach. They would like to remain in the area. Pastor Hill can be reached at 763/205-5514 or 763/438-2313.