Strong Tower—Dawson's Newest Mission Partner
by Ben Hale
Evangelism & Missions Pastor

The financial faithfulness of Dawson’s church family has resulted in the development of multiple ministry partnerships that continue to bear fruit. Nowhere is this more evident than Dawson’s newest partnership with Strong Tower Church in the historic Washington Park community of West Montgomery, Alabama.

In 2011, a new multi-cultural congregation, with a strong calling to serve Montgomery’s inner-city, began ministering in the under-resourced neighborhood of Washington Park. Under the leadership of pastors Terrence Jones and Alonzo Brown Jr., a new beacon of hope became a reality in the historic Washington Park community.

Washington Park is known as the last resting stop for the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March. Rosa Parks lived in this community and many of the local churches during that time served as makeshift bus stations during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Unfortunately, the community has since fallen on hard times. Its current condition shows no evidence that those historic events ever happened there. Today, 32,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the center of Washington Park. The daily challenges are many. Fifty-seven percent of household incomes are below $35,000 and twenty-four percent of adults over the age of 25 have no high school diploma.

The broken education system, which began during the desegregation of schools in the 1960s, has left Montgomery with more private schools than public schools. Those with the means to go to private schools do so while those without means are largely left with underperforming public schools. Graduation rates are low and college graduates are few. Hopelessness permeates the air. As a result, drug use, prostitution, and violence have become some of the everyday coping mechanisms. People are either unchurched with no knowledge of the Bible, or have experienced a lot of hurt from their past church experiences.

In response to the physical and spiritual challenges faced by the residents of Washington Park, Strong Tower began launching ministry initiatives. The first was an intense discipleship program, Fisher’s Farm, that was created to help men overcome life-dominating issues. Soon after that, Strong Tower multiplied its ministry outreach by training and sending three church planters to establish new churches in other underserved areas of Montgomery. More new ministries continued to develop as Strong Tower launched college ministries at both Alabama State University and Tuskegee University.

In April of 2021, an amazing dream became a reality when Strong Tower Church moved into its permanent home and established a visible witness of the church’s commitment to serve the people of Washington Park. The newly renovated community center, formerly known as the “William 'Kid' Franklin Boys and Girls Club” became the church’s home, and once again, a beacon of hope for the community. The 14,000 sq. ft. building originally opened in the 1960s as the Capital City Boys Club and served the community until it closed in 2009 when the tenants of Highland Village, the public housing projects that surrounded the center, were forced to vacate their apartments. Strong Tower Church purchased the facility in 2017 and invested $1 million with plans for their church to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the people in Washington Park.

Following the renovation and the opening of the community center, Strong Tower found themselves in an unusual position. God’s blessing on their efforts in the Washington Park community were evident, but the costs of developing ongoing ministries were larger than they had anticipated. Here is where Dawson’s passion for missions and Strong Tower’s visionary ministry found common ground. At the exact same time the need for additional funding was becoming evident to Strong Tower, Dawson’s mission team was a seeking a ministry partner that was focused on church planting and multi-cultural ministries.

In March of 2023, a multi-year partnership between Dawson and Strong Tower began that will provide financial support for two community ministries, one for kids and one for senior adults. Specifically, those include an after-school program that will provide consistent development educationally, spiritually, and recreationally for the children of Washington Park, and a Senior Citizen Program that will provide Bible Study, physical exercise, fellowship, and life skill training. These resources will begin the process of providing a haven for the youth to enjoy a space where they can simply be children in a safe environment. Both tutoring and Bible learning activities are planned. Senior citizens are largely forgotten in Washington Park. Dawson’s partnership funds will be used to hire a part-time director who will organize the program. The program will provide helpful services, a place for fellowship and interaction, and an opportunity to hear the Gospel on a regular basis.

Terrence Jones' calling to plant a church was unlike most. While in seminary, friends from college who were ministering in the historic Washington Park community of Montgomery, asked Terrence and his wife to join them and help expand their ministry. The Jones family began 40 days of prayer and fasting to discern if this was where God wanted them to serve.

The following is Pastor Terrence's account of how the Lord brought him and his family to serve as Lead Pastor at Strong Tower, and their hope for the future:

As with most potential church planting opportunities, a vision trip was planned for us to see the community and meet the people. During our week there,
I met many wonderful people from this community. I also saw, face-to-face, how difficult life could be in Washington Park. While we were there, someone was murdered on the Friday we arrived and another was murdered on the Sunday we left. Amid those circumstances, we were convinced that God had called us here. On the plane ride back home my wife and I asked each other, "How could we not go back and help bring hope to a hurting place?"

The daily challenges are many. Even though there are several churches in the community, many of the members who grew up here have relocated. They simply commute back here for church attendance. Many of the kids have no clue about the story of Christ or know what communion represents. There is also the broken education system. Our graduation rates are low and college graduates are few. This also causes a lot of residents here to live at or below the poverty line.

There is much work to be done. We now have three nights a week that adult males play basketball. We had one company CEO come to the basketball outreach and offer jobs to young men in our community. Even during Spring Break, we are open for community kids to come in and have a safe place to play basketball. We also have annual dental fairs. We just finished one last week in partnership with Maxwell Air Force Base Dental Office, The Church at Liberty Park in Birmingham, and the North American Missions Board (NAMB). We were able to provide 80 extractions, 19 fillings, 3 cleanings, and 62 x-rays. We saw a total of 65 patients in three days. The total cost of services rendered was $27,733. We had one lady to profess Christ from that event. Two households have since attended church with us, and we have a list of all of the patients for follow up within the upcoming weeks. We have also hosted a few real estate seminars, back-to-school giveaways, fall festivals, Vacation Bible Schools, and such. We are trying to use the facility as often as possible to be a blessing to the community. We have had several kids from the community attend church and Wednesday night Bible study as well.

Senior adults are largely forgotten in our community. There are some good programs in the city, but they can cost. The only free senior program in our community (that I’m aware of) shut down because the building was in bad shape and the director was leaving town. These resources that Dawson is providing will allow us to hire a part-time director who will help organize the program. Our goal is to provide all of them with helpful services and a place for fellowship and interaction. Our senior citizens deserve and desire that. It will also provide an opportunity for them to hear the Gospel consistently.

The children are the future. With Dawson's partnership, we can now begin the process of providing a safe haven for our youth to enjoy a space where they can simply be children. We hope, as we expand, we will also be able to offer specialized tutoring and more Gospel opportunities. This is the only community center open to all kids in our community, so we are looking forward to building more lasting relationships with the kids and their families.

A few years ago we met a lady during our annual Thanksgiving giveaway. She received Christ through that outreach and continued to be a vital member of our church. She attended prayer meetings, Sunday worship, and our weekly Bible studies faithfully. We were also able to meet some tangible needs for her such as food and help with a couple of housing relocations. Before coming to Strong Tower, she was involved in alternative lifestyles—among many other things. Yet, we personally saw God completely change her life. Unfortunately, she died during COVID, but her funeral was huge. We had the opportunity to witness to several of her family members while she was living and also during her home-going service.

We want to be known as a ministry that sees people where they are. We want to both demonstrate and proclaim the Gospel with compassion. We most definitely want to continue our church planting efforts. Having already planted two successful church plants, we will continue to do this at the right times. It reminds us of our need to trust God, and that we are not building our own kingdom, but God's.

We want to have the best community center in the city. We want a thriving senior program from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on weekdays. We want a thriving after school program for youth from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. We also would like to have an 8-week summer camp to keep kids safe and out of trouble in the summertime. We are trusting God for sports leagues as well as for financial literacy courses. As long as the Lord allows, we want to be a Strong Tower where people run towards God and away from the world. We hope all of these things will happen over the next five years. Beyond that, I can even see us starting a Christian School and addressing our food desert issues by providing a grocery store. For now, we are content to be faithful with what we have, and in making the most out of every day and continue to have a Gospel impact in all that we do.

These last four years have been the hardest of my life. COVID was hard on all of us. On top of that, my wife and I are now caring for both of my parents and for her mom. My dad was diagnosed with dementia four years ago and it changed everything. Almost overnight he went from being the one who solved everyone's problems to the one needing the most help. Recently, my mom had two stents put into her heart due to a 70% blockage. We are also caring for a young man with mild autism whose mom died from COVID. He is 16 years old. Not to mention trying to love our own five children well, while tending to the normal ministry needs and concerns of the church. By God’s grace we are still here. We are still standing. We feel grateful that the Lord has entrusted us with so much. Please pray for our strength and balance.

Pray also for our pastors and leaders. Pray for Alonzo Brown, our Associate Pastor, and for his family. He and his wife have three biological teenage/young adult kids and adopted three younger boys. Parenting the young adult kids has not been easy. They need wisdom and strength to train all their kids and continue to lead the church. Washington Park is a difficult place for families to live.

And please pray for our church and its ministries. We are asking God to make us bold in our Gospel witness, to bring many souls to Christ. We are asking that He gets all the glory and all the credit. Apart from Him we can do nothing. We want Strong Tower Church to be seen as a blessing from God to the community. So please pray for all these things!

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Ben Hale Dawson’s Evangelism & Missions Pastor since 2000, has been married to Lindy for 36 years. They are parents to three adult children and grandparents to three grandchildren. Ben is passionate about providing people opportunities to serve beyond the walls of our church buildings.