Loving Souls out of Darkness
Story by Jessica Russell
Photos by Geraldine Wilkins
Originally published in issue 64 of Calvary Chapel Magazine
In 2008, while Rajaan Dixon was sitting outside his apartment with a 40 oz. bottle of beer in his hand and two armed teenagers at his side, Pastor Ray Dash of The Rock Christian Fellowship (TRCF), a Calvary Chapel affiliate in Newark, NJ, approached him. Ray had been walking through the projects with hotdogs and Gospels of John, meeting the residents and inviting them to a new Bible study. “First I got offended,” admitted Rajaan, “because in Newark we’re very territorial. I was like, ‘Who are you? A cop or something?’” Yet Rajaan enjoyed Ray’s company that day and kept in touch. “I had never seen a young black male walking the streets, talking about Jesus, and I was 33 years old,” Rajaan shared. “When Pastor Ray used to look at me, it was like he was looking at my soul, trying to find a little bead of light.”
Israel Antoine, back right, talks with a man during the The Rock Christian Fellowship’s neighborhood evangelism weekly outing. Ruthie Dash, right, wife of Pastor Ray Dash, speaks with a woman she met nearby.
Love is patient, love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4a (NIV)
Though for many months Ray could see no outward change in Rajaan’s life, he continued to befriend him and talk about Jesus. With tears in his eyes, the pastor confessed, “I had to pray for God’s love to replace mine.” For a while, Rajaan wondered if Ray was genuine or not. “I used to try to get him mad to test him, but he never got mad,” Rajaan laughed. “And I even got him into trouble!” Rajaan lives in gang territory, with the Crips and Bloods gangs regularly fighting each other. Though he never belonged to a gang, he frequently fought with them both and had just been in a fight when Ray stopped by to visit. The gang assumed he was Rajaan’s backup. Ray and Rajaan climbed into the pastor’s car just as a gang member approached them to finish the fight. “This guy was walking to the car about to shoot us,” reflected Rajaan. The gunman held his weapon, ready to pull the trigger, but never did. “God’s grace was falling upon me,” Rajaan concluded.
Ruthie Dash, left, invites a father and his children to The Rock’s annual block party. The outreach is a free event where residents receive gifts and are given an opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Saved by Grace
Rajaan followed Ray to church in 2008, trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and has been serving God since. Rajaan declared: “I felt God’s grace in my life. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. So I ran to God because of His grace. God brought me out of the fire to pull others out of that darkness.” Ray added, “He is what I call ‘the church’s Andrew’ because he’s probably brought in more people through the church throughout the years than anybody else. He is a voice for the Gospel.”
Pastor Ray Dash encourages a lady he met while walking the neighborhood with the TRCF evangelism team. He believes it is important for the pastor to get out of the church and meet community members.
Israel Antoine shares his faith during the The Rock Christian Fellowship’s neighborhood evangelism weekly outing.
“In this generation, the people from the streets are not coming to church on their own. We have to go get them,” Ray asserted. After growing up in New York City, between Harlem and the Bronx, Ray surrendered his life to God at age 22 while attending Calvary Chapel Old Bridge, NJ. He eventually became the youth leader there. As he served the Lord, he found himself drawn to the people in Newark and wanted to share God’s Word with them—leading him to spend three years interning with nearby Calvary Chapel Kearny, NJ, which was a brand new fellowship at the time and gave him practical experience for starting his own church.
Ray, left, and Chris Edwards, right, pray with a man during Wednesday evening street evangelism.
When Ray and his wife Ruthie were starting the ministry in Newark in 2007, they visited local public housing apartments Seth Boyden and Baxter Terrace Apartments. In those early days, the couple intentionally met and got to know people on the roughest streets in their community. Friends and relatives advised them to leave these areas alone, warning them of the danger. “I asked God for wisdom, and He showed me in the Bible where Paul was explaining that it would have been good for him to leave, but better for the people if he stayed,” explained Ray. He chose to continue ministering. “The Lord wants to save people in this city,” he added.
Israel Antoine, a deacon, hands an invitation for the church’s block party to kids in the neighborhood.
For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith. Philippians 1:23-25
After the outreaches had drawn people to Christ, Ray and Ruthie began a public Bible study in a park (church in the park), which eventually led to the beginning of an official Bible study at the YMCA. The group spent the first six years in a converted six-car garage and moved into their own building in April 2014.
After meeting Tre, right, at the Rock in the Block party, Darlene Drake introduces him to Pastor Ray. Tre listens as both passionately talk about the love relationship he can have with Jesus. The next day, to everyone’s delight, Tre arrived early for Sunday worship services at TRCF.
Though not everyone with whom they share the good news of Jesus Christ responds positively, the believers at TRCF have learned the importance of sharing regardless of the outcome. “We had a neighbor who lived across the street,” began Ruthie. “His child played with one of mine. One day the father was standing outside at the tree in front of my house.” Ruthie felt like God was urging her to share Christ’s love with him. “I brushed it off and didn’t do it. When the kids started school, my son came home and said to me, ‘Mom, Taya’s father died!’ I thought it was a terrible rumor but came to find out he had committed suicide.” Ruthie told herself that she would never ignore the Lord’s prompting again and would share the Gospel with everyone she could.
His first day at church, Tre shares a poem that he wrote after hearing the Gospel the previous day.
During street evangelism one evening, the believers met two prostitutes, told them about Jesus, and asked if they wanted prayer. “They said, ‘Oh, no!’ But then another lady came and let us pray for her. She was sobbing the whole time and has been in and out of TRCF throughout the years,” remembered Ruthie. Israel Antoine, a deacon at the church, added, “Some people have never heard about what Christ has done for them.” During Wednesday evening evangelism, Israel met a man in his 60s and asked him, “Can I share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with you?” Nervous at first, Israel expected the man would argue with him but was caught off guard when he instead asked, “Who is that?” Israel started at the beginning with Adam and Eve and explained the story of redemption. “It is mind-boggling to me that we live in a country with radio programs, television shows, and many types of Bibles and tracts, yet there are still people who have no idea who Jesus is,” Israel said.
After the worship service, Ray sits down with Tre, gives him a Bible, and encourages him to read the Word of God so he can begin growing in his faith.
Tre studies the Word of God.
Pastor Ray prays with Tre.
Though Israel had grown up in church, he first came to have a personal relationship with Jesus at age 20. “Someone said that we were made in the image of God. I’d been to church all my life and no one had ever said that to me,” explained Israel. “It built a curiosity in me to read my Bible. That’s when I really knew the Lord—from reading the Word of God.” From that experience, Israel perceived a major lack of understanding of God’s Word among many people. He commented, “A lot of people misunderstand what God is about. I didn’t know I was made in the image of God and wondered who else didn’t know that.” He became passionate about telling people the truth of God’s Word. When Israel met Ray in 2006, Israel and his wife Torrie eagerly came alongside the Dashes to serve in the ministry.
Jennifer Faulk, right, encourages and prays with another lady in the fellowship.
Two Are Better Than One
It was mandatory for Ruthie to attend church while growing up, and she accepted Jesus into her life at age 14. But with the pressures of high school, Ruthie gave in to temptation and strayed from her faith, a problem she now feels could have been avoided had she had mature women keeping her accountable. “The burden on my heart is for women to have accountability, and spiritual growth,” shared Ruthie. As a pastor’s wife, she helps women in her fellowship become and remain spiritually strong by checking in with them about how their families are doing and how their relationship with the Lord is. “In this community,” she added, “there’s a physical aspect of women’s ministry in addition to ministering the Word. We have a lot of single moms, so sometimes I help with the children or laundry.”
Believers fellowship after Sunday worship at TRCF, a Calvary Chapel affiliate.
Ruthie enjoys holding a newborn. Since there are many single moms in their community, ministry often includes helping with children and doing laundry in addition to sharing God’s Word.
Ruthie met Jennifer Faulk through a mutual friend and visited her while she was incarcerated. “She was battling drug addiction,” remembered Ruthie. “I came into her life when she was facing five years in jail.” Jennifer went to court to determine her future, which Ruthie attended. “I had to go stand before the judge,” she recalled. “The judge was in awe of her rap sheet because it was so long. I thought, Who is this? The woman I met was different from the woman they were talking about.” Ruthie had talked with Jennifer about the Lord and believed that, despite her past, Jennifer was serious about following Christ now. When the judge asked how Jennifer would stay out of trouble if she was released, Ruthie declared, “I’ll take her. I’ll be her accountability.” Jennifer was released from jail and set free by God from her addictions. She has served in the church ever since.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
After Jennifer’s release, Ruthie brought her to church every week. “She poured into me from the minute I got out,” Jennifer exclaimed. Ruthie added, “As a pastor’s wife, you wear a bunch of hats. Before she got here, I was saying, Lord, I need somebody who can hit the ground running and come alongside me. And that’s who Jennifer has become to me. I had been doing prison ministry pretty much by myself. She watched me do it for a little while, and she’s taken it over now.” Jennifer’s colorful testimony helps her relate to others in the rehab and juvenile detention centers. “They think it’s impossible to quit—many have tried for years to no avail,” said Jennifer. She now encourages them by sharing, “Look what Jesus did with me. I’ve been there, and Jesus set me free.”
Pastor Ray prays with a woman while walking through the neighborhood surrounding TRCF, a Calvary Chapel affiliate.
Pastor Ray has a conversation with a young man.
Larry, right, shares with Rock in the Block attendees.
Rock in the Block
The annual block party hosted by TRCF has been an outlet for sharing Christ’s love in their neighborhood for the last seven years. This past summer the church closed down the street in front of their building and offered free food, face painting, haircuts, bouncy houses, Christian rap concerts, raffles, and Gospel presentations. “Rock in the Block is a vacation for many people in this community,” said Ray. Pastor Tony Clark of Calvary Chapel Newport News, VA, shared God’s Word at the event this year.
Pastor Tony Clark, Calvary Chapel Newport News, VA, is the guest speaker at the Rock Christian Fellowship’s annual block party.
Sha-ron Corley gives a boy a free hair cut. He cut hair throughout the event.
As their mother prays, two boys respond to the message of salvation through Jesus.
Darlene Drake from Calvary Chapel Old Bridge, NJ, served at the outreach. At the end of the event, an 18-year-old young man stopped her to ask for advice. She counseled him for a moment and then realized, “There aren’t coincidences with God. There was a reason he came to me.” Darlene recalled, “I could see that we were being led by God, so I brought him over to Pastor Ray, who spoke to him about his life and encouraged him to get plugged in at church.” Darlene prayed that night, hoping he would come to church the next morning. Instead of attending her own fellowship that Sunday, she went to TRCF in case he showed up. She rejoiced when she arrived and saw him sitting in the front row. “He even wrote a poem about his experience at the block party the day before,” Ray noted. “He asked me what he could do to prove that he was serious about God. I gave him a Bible and told him to come to men’s Bible study that week.”
Ministry leader Jackie Melvin, left, leads youth in weekly Bible study.
Torrie Antoine, right, teaches Bible lessons to children twice each week.
Ministry of Prayer
“The Lord has put it on my heart to pray for someone before,” began Torrie Antoine, Israel’s wife. “Then when you see that person walk into church the next day, you want to jump out of your shoes! It’s the coolest thing to see your prayers answered. When you tell most people to ‘Pray about it’, they feel like you’re pushing them aside. But to talk to God and hear Him talk back is a blessing.”
Teens pray together during Bible study.
The Rock Christian Fellowship prayer team members pray for congregants after worship services.
When Ray was a struggling teenager, his mom asked some believers to pray for Ray. One of them wrote Ray’s name down in her prayer journal, faithfully interceding for him for many years. She was overwhelmed when she visited TRCF to help with an event and saw Ray for the first time. “You’re the young man I prayed for, and here you are—a pastor,” she exclaimed. Witnessing that meeting, Torrie was motivated more than ever to prioritize prayer. “God allowed that woman to see the fruit of her prayers years later. This teen who was wayward is now a pastor with an amazing love for this city,” said Torrie. TRCF gathers frequently to intercede for each other and for God to change lives in Newark.
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