Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 10, 2012

Elmo’s Passionate Vision

Elmo Johnson is one of my heroes — and he is bigger than life. For the past 28-years, Elmo has served as Pastor of Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church in Houston’s Fourth Ward. The Fourth Ward was established by the City of Houston in 1839 in an area known as Freedmen’s Town, a community originally settled by freed slaves. These freed slaves reclaimed the swampy land along the southern edge of the Buffalo Bayou, built their homes there, paved their streets with hand-made bricks, and provided their own services and utilities. Over time, the Fourth Ward slowly fell into disrepair and by 1980 almost 50 percent of Fourth Ward residents lived below the poverty level. During that period the Fourth Ward also earned a reputation for being a tough part of town. However, when God sent a man named Elmo Johnson to the Fourth Ward and gave him a passionate vision for sharing and showing the truth of God’s love, things started to change for the better.

When I first met Pastor Elmo in the mid-1990s, I was captivated by his passionate vision of reclaiming the Fourth Ward one home at a time, literally. Elmo mobilized his congregation, the community, and volunteers to begin the process of systematically driving out crack dealers by tearing down or restoring dilapidated homes. He also helped to mobilize people from throughout the greater community through the Uplift Fourth Ward initiative. I have watched the transformation of the Fourth Ward take place over the years and must confess that it has been nothing short of dramatic and miraculous. I credit men like Elmo Johnson for doing so much good in the Fourth Ward. His influence extends far beyond the pews in the church building to the narrow streets of the surrounding neighborhoods, the places where life happens.

My friend Doyle and I had lunch with Elmo today. I learned a long time ago that no matter where you go with Elmo in the Fourth Ward, people know him. He is a pastor to the community. When we walked in to the restaurant almost everybody in the place acknowledged his arrival. “This is what it must be like being with a rock star,” Doyle commented. He’s right. Elmo has earned the love and respect of Fourth Ward residents because of his track record of faithful service in the community. Elmo earned that reputation by being accessible, by walking slowly among the people, and by making a decision to invest his life there. People know that they can count on Pastor Elmo, that he will be there when the night is darkest and the pain is at its worst, and that he will move heaven and earth, if necessary, to help.

I am grateful for my years of friendship with Pastor Elmo. He is indeed closer than a brother to me. His faith and his life challenges me on several levels. I have never heard him complain about how difficult things can get in the Fourth Ward or about the never-ending demands on his time. Pastor Elmo once told me that he wants to be like Jesus by going a little farther. This is a reference to the night that Jesus took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and asked them to watch and pray and then went a little farther from them to pray (Luke 22:41). “Jesus was always going a little farther,” Elmo told me. “And we should do the same!” I agree. The Fourth Ward is a better place today because Pastor Elmo is always going a little farther and doing a little more.


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