By Carl Stagner
In a society marked by division and discord, glimpses of unity refresh the soul like summertime rain on the desert Southwest. Unity experienced amid a diverse cultural, socioeconomic, and political landscape can ultimately only come from Jesus. It really should come as no surprise then that the Christian community would be one of the first groups to come together in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The subject of their experience together was Jesus. Barriers that used to divide have crumbled, and love entwines about each heart in which God’s will is done.
Gary Underwood is the pastor of Eastside Community Church in Muskogee. The city’s mayor had issued a challenge to the town’s leaders to do whatever possible to reach out to others who may be different from themselves. Underwood was inspired to connect with the pastor of a predominantly African American church in Muskogee to plan a unity service between the two churches. Often referred to as the most segregated hours of the week, Sunday morning would be a prime opportunity to reach across the aisle—or pew.
Eastside Community Church and Harvest Ministries came together that day and celebrated their common Savior. Worship was led by teams from both churches, and Pastor Beasley of Harvest delivered the message. In a moment that could only come from the Holy Spirit, Underwood signaled to one of his ushers to fetch a water bottle, a pan, and a towel. As Underwood washed the feet of his brother in Christ, tears of love washed away differences of background and denomination.
“Jesus is the common denominator that brings unity,” Underwood asserts. “Disunity usually happens when people, churches, and ministers are going their own separate directions while trying to build our own individual kingdoms. It is a big step to healing the breakdown that still exists within our culture today. We as pastors have to model this for our congregations with the hope of them living it out into the community where they work, shop, and play every day.”
Partnering together with groups outside the four walls of Eastside is nothing new. Over the past year, the church has joined forces with fifteen other organizations and individuals—including Church of God congregations and other churches—to make a bigger impact than they could alone. To encourage our troops overseas, they collected and shipped 150 gift cards. Last year, Eastside set a goal to collect five thousand water bottles for a local rescue mission; they smashed that goal by two thousand. Today the church continues to partner with others in the community to make a difference for the glory of God.
“It takes the Holy Spirit laying on the church’s heart what it can do to make a difference and impact an area of the community,” Underwood explains. “People then need to listen to the Spirit and open their eyes to something they can do. There is not a big or small need in my mind; when we meet a need, they all matter, and people are being touched with the true heart and nature of Jesus.”