This Time, Church Came to the Worshippers
"Got God," reads the marquee at Christ Way Deliverance Church in Eastwood.
God -- and so much more.
Pastor Nathaniel Jackson, a retired school principal, and his wife, Geneva, a retired teacher, also have the grit required to relocate and renovate a 100-year-old church, establish and minister to a small congregation, and perform enough good works to make an angel blush -- while refusing to complain about anything.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nathaniel Jackson had a dream.
"In my dream I talked to the Lord," he says. "He told me to build a church on 15-501."
Nathaniel had been called to the ministry in previous dreams. He was already preaching at Stony Hill Free Will Baptist Church in Carthage. The miracle concerns how quickly and efficiently the energetic 63-year-old grandfather implemented that command.
Start with his background.
"My father built this with his own hands. This was our house," says Jackson, the ninth of 10 children, sitting at a long table in the church annex on a knoll three miles north of the Pinehurst Traffic Circle. This modest structure, the Jackson homestead, now houses meeting space, kitchen, library and classrooms.
Jackson speaks of his father, a jack-of-all trades from whom he learned them all -- and his mother: "She did not discriminate between boys and girls. I could bake a cake when I was 9."
His wife interrupts: "He taught me how to cook." Then, pointing to the windows, she adds: "He made those curtains, too."
Geneva and Nathaniel met in high school and married young. After two years in college, they found that their money had dried up.
"Both of our families were po' -- that's worse than poor but not quite poverty," Jackson explains with characteristic good humor. They left college and joined Nathaniel's brother in Brooklyn. Nathaniel loaded soda onto trucks while Geneva attended secretarial school.
"We were there for two years, three months and 13 days," Jackson recalls. "I did not like it."
The couple returned to North Carolina in 1968 and, with savings and money from odd jobs, Nathaniel finished his degree in early-childhood education at Fayetteville State University. He served as principal of Southern Pines Middle School and at the Moore County Schools central office, retiring in 1997. Nathaniel was also a partner in the Jackson Simon Funeral Home, and he owns rental properties.
The Jacksons' three children are teachers.
'Ran From the Calling'
Travel was the couple's retirement agenda. The Lord had other ideas.
"I was called by God," Jackson declares. "I knew after I received the Holy Spirit."
This time, he dreamed he was in the pulpit -- and woke up preaching.
"I had an idea what was going on," Geneva says. "But for a while, he ran from the calling."
Circumstances intervened. The pastor at Stony Hill, the Jacksons' church, died. Nathaniel knew the deacons and, at the funeral, offered assistance. He was accepted into the pulpit.
"I loved the people," he says. "We had crying sessions when I left."
Nevertheless, he felt restless, unfulfilled.
At this time, the Lord commanded him to establish a church on U.S. 15-501 in Eastwood. His childhood home, converted to meeting space, was the obvious location, except he had leased the building to a Hispanic congregation.
Jackson found an alternative. Nonaffiliated, nondenominational Christ Way Deliverance Church opened over a motorcycle shop in 2003, the only African American church between Sanford and Laurinburg on U.S. 15-501, Nathaniel believed. The initial membership of about 20 extended family has grown to nearly 40, including congregants who followed him from Stony Hill and elsewhere.
Jackson still felt he had fallen short of the Lord's command. In 2007, he relocated the Hispanic congregation and moved from the storefront into his homestead with the intention of adding a sanctuary. New construction, he discovered, was too costly.
Again, God pulled strings.
'Spoke to My Spirit'
Jackson had taken a job with Job Link Employment Security in Rockingham. During the summer of 2008, he watched as buildings were demolished for the expansion on U.S. 1. One of them was Hoffman United Methodist Church.
"Every day I passed a church that looked abandoned," Jackson recalls. "The Lord spoke to my spirit and said 'Stop.'"
He found one door of the church ajar. He entered the vandalized but classically beautiful space, with its soaring windows.
"When I saw that church, something came over me," he recalls.
He consulted his supporters. They said "Are you crazy?" Even Geneva expressed doubts.
Jackson, however, realized the potential. "I had to work fast," he says. The Department of Transportation informed him that a demolition contract had been issued to Don Evans of Nehemiah Builders in Raleigh with intent to move or demolish. Evans himself did not want to see the fine workmanship of a historic church destroyed.
"Pastor Jackson is very convincing," Evans recalls. "We worked it out."
Specifically, Nathaniel reveals, "I bought the church for a dollar."
Moving the structure was slightly more expensive. Jackson contacted W.C. Wright of A-1 Movers in Peachland. Wright's quote was $40,000 -- double the entire building fund.
"Lord help us," Jackson exclaimed.
He did. Jackson and Wright met at the church on a blistering August afternoon to discuss price. Jackson learned that Wright also preached. They prayed together. During prayers, Wright had a vision which included the price of $19,000.
"I love to see old churches being saved," Wright says. "I've moved them all over the place. I urge folks not to tear them down."
Details were finalized, and a site adjoining Jackson's homestead church was prepared.
"It seemed like moving day would never come," he says.
A Solid Foundation
The 40-ton church -- built with native heart-of-pine timbers in 1903, with a fellowship hall added in 1950 -- was moved in two parts on Feb. 2, minus the roof. The eight-hour, 25-mile journey ran into a harrowing snag when the trailer was unable to ascend the water-logged driveway.
This time, the Lord needed a winch. Jackson was instructed to get one from Dowd Motor Pool. Within 24 hours, the dilapidated old church rested on a new cinder-block foundation.
Let the renovations commence.
But something seemed amiss: Those cinder blocks.
"I never had a drawing or a plan," Jackson says, "but the Lord put it in my spirit that the church had to be on rock. This gleaning remained a mystery until his banker recalled that a solid rock foundation symbolizes Jesus.
But whither the rocks? And how to afford a stonemason?
Surely the Lord sent Jose Ramiriz, an unemployed construction worker with a wife and three small children. Ramiriz, unable to pay his rent, asked Jackson for a job. Labor was bartered for occupancy of a mobile home -- one of several the Jacksons own in Eastwood.
"The Lord blessed us to have these," Jackson concedes.
"I feel good about (working on) the church," Ramiriz says of the monumental undertaking that outgrew the foundation. In some places the stones reach the roof. This stonework structurally and visually unifies the parts.
When shingles were needed, a roofer appeared by similar providence. Then one February morning, Nathaniel found an envelope containing six 100-dollar bills stuck in the door with a note reading, "God bless you. We will continue to watch your progress."
This is God's money, Nathaniel insists, and he will steward it carefully.
'I Stood in Awe'
Geneva Jackson was by her husband's side every step of the way. She kept a detailed, handwritten, photo-documented record of the saga. She teaches Sunday school, manages the finances, plans events, staffs a mentoring program for young mothers -- even cleans the toilets, she announces proudly.
Services conducted by Nathaniel, his son Daryl Jackson and guest preachers commenced Oct. 4 in a sanctuary fitted with handsome wooden pews upholstered in crimson velvet, the original soaring windows, polished floors, drums, a piano and a larger-than-life wall painting of a bearded black Jesus, adapted by Thomas Butler of Eastwood from a work by Greensboro artist Peg Dufresne. Beyond the sanctuary are the church office and classrooms. The church has large, bright wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and a ramp with copper railings.
Although many businesses and individuals contributed to the undertaking, the pastor's hands touched everything.
"When that church arrived, it looked terrible," says Mary Gillespie of Eastwood. "I saw (Jackson) working and working on it himself. Now look at the finished product."
Frances Gilmore of Carthage has worshipped with the Jacksons since the storefront. She observed moving day. "When it was finished, I came in the front door and stood in awe," she says. "There are no words -- I cried and cried because it was so beautiful."
Truly, it is. On Oct. 11, Pastor Jackson, dressed in a gold satin suit and black shirt with clerical collar, commenced the final dedication service.
"Hosanna, hosanna, blessed be the rock of my salvation," he chanted. "Magnify the Lord, magnify the Lord."
The congregation gathered around the altar, shaking tambourines and joining in the anthem.
"Pastor Jackson is a pastor that is real," Gilmore says. "He helps people who are in need fiscally and spiritually. He gets them on the right track in school and in jobs. The Jacksons make people feel like family. It's hello and a hug, and you know you're loved."
But hello and a hug and a spectacular new church won't satisfy Nathaniel Jackson for long.
The Lord is whispering in his ear. "I know there are children who don't have anything to eat," he says. "I want to take our motor home to where they live and prepare them lunch. We'll have soft gospel music playing and tell Bible stories."
"My parents are outstanding individuals," says the Jacksons' daughter, DeShan Ross. "It's a joy to see how God is using them."
And using them, and using them. But Geneva and Nathaniel Jackson seem tireless, perhaps because they draw on an indefatigable force.
"None of this was our doing," Geneva volunteers, modestly. "We were just God's instrument."
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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