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Pastor says outreach more important than ever after violent weekend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Pastors in the area of the 1600-block of North Olive Street continue their efforts to preach nonviolence in the neighborhood in the wake of a violent weekend that left two men dead.

Johnnie Avance, 53, and Donald Wayne Paris, Sr., 55, were killed by a gunman just before 10 a.m. on Olive Street.  The man who allegedly killed them was shot by police and taken into custody.  The sight of police swarming over the neighborhood at the scene where two of their neighbors were murdered had many in the area turning to their faith.

"You know, if they brought the churches back into our neighborhood, like they're supposed to, there wouldn't be any of this," said Hallie Lawson, an Olive Street resident. "The only person you're supposed to be redeemed from is God, so it's just terrible."

Not far from the scene Pastor Canneth Lee of The Kingdom Christian Center is trying to bring church back into the neighborhood.  Lee drove past the shooting scene on his way to preach at his church Sunday morning.

"We're a church that cares about our neighborhood and we're saddened by what has happened, I preach a lot of funerals for a lot of young people," Pastor Lee described.  “My sister was killed, murdered, so I know the pain that the family is feeling.”

The Kingdom Christian Center has been at its 2010 Elwood Avenue location for 10-years.  Pastor Lee was raised in the neighborhood and has put a lot of effort into trying to inspire change.  His church, he said, is an example of what can be done to improve the community.

"When we bought this property this was a place where people sold drugs and prostitution was going on and it was an eyesore in the community,” described Lee.  “We were able to come in and clean it up, fix it up and make it a place where people can come and feel love and hear an inspirational message.”

The church is aggressive in its outreach efforts according to Lee.  During the summer they give out free bottles of water and rented a water slide for neighborhood children.  They also raise money to help people pay for gas.  Efforts to reach out to those who have lost their way have yielded some surprising results.

“I found that some of the drug dealers are more spiritual than some people that go to church and if you're speaking their language they're more apt to hear you," Lee explained.  “To show them love and from that we’ve had people from the neighborhood come in and give their life to Christ and begin to start a new path.”

But, Lee explained, the message they spread is not strictly religious.  He said the solution to violence isn’t necessarily to convince people to accept God, but to spread a message of peace and caring.

“I could give you a churchy answer, ‘Jesus is the answer for the world and for this problem,’ but it really does take people taking responsibility for their lives,” explained Pastor Lee.  “Some people don’t know that there’s another way and so they only react out of what they’re used to and so what we try to do is teach people a different way, a better way, if you love your brother instead of kill your brother then you're able to work situations out."

Pastor Lee said he planned to continue outreach programs to help the neighborhood and may partner with South Bend Neighborhoods: Problems, Suggestions, Solutions a group that organizes events, including lemonade stands, to combat crime.  The group will be putting on a lemonade stand at the scene of Sunday’s shooting on September 1.

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