Pastor is living example of work for the human family
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Fifty years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the solidarity of the human family, Portland Pastor Dr. Mark Strong is a testament of the late civil rights leader’s passion to heal and mentor the fatherless.
Not long after a dilapidated grocery store on North Williams Avenue became a new church, the Life Change Christian Center, Strong realized fatherlessness was a growing epidemic in the community.
The pastor was holding hands in prayer with a number of community leaders when he looked up at the circle of familiar faces around him. He began to mutter in his mind, “No father, no father, no father…”
Fifteen of the 20 faces before him, whether they were 18 or 60-years old, white or black, had grown up without an active father figure in their lives. “That’s a problem,” he remembers thinking.
At the time, Strong was writing his doctoral thesis on how to improve inner city leadership, but that night he shifted his focus to an issue he saw that held greater magnitude. His thesis eventually became his book, “Church for the Fatherless,” a ministry model for one of society’s most pressing problems.
According to the National Center for Fathering, an estimated 24 million children (33 percent of the adolescent population) live in a home without their biological father. Further, 63 percent of black children, 35 percent of Hispanic children, and 28 percent of white children are living in homes absent their biological father.
“Seeing fatherlessness affect so many families and young people in the church and community created a passion, or a burden within me to address the problem,” said Strong, who earned his doctorate in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from George Fox University.
In respect to King’s belief in the beloved community and taking stewardship to be responsible for one another, Strong said the issue of fatherlessness demanded his spiritual advocacy on the issue.
“Every individual’s biological father may not be present, but that doesn’t mean that a child or young man or young woman has to have a life void of an experience of a positive father,” said Strong.
That’s where the community and the church have to step in and be the surrogate father, said Strong.
Strong’s book offers a thorough examination of fatherlessness. It educates readers about its roots and provides on-the-ground solutions, ways that the community and church can engage.
The pastor says the efforts don’t require much money. People can utilize the resources they have, like embracing the good attributes of who they are, and their willingness to step into a person’s life and make a difference.
In November, Strong, along with other leaders on fatherless issues, led a Father-Shift Conference at Life Change Christian Center, where a thousand or so men and women showed up to participate in the awareness-raising event.
After hearing from multiple speakers, the crowd broke off by gender into separate sessions for healing and mentoring.
While men learned how to cope with the pain of never having a father and fathers learned how to become better fathers, single-mothers and daughters learned how to deal with their own hurt as well as ways to empower themselves and their children.
Ultimately, those attending were encouraged “to find a relationship with the heavenly father who will never abandon them, but will always love and embrace them,” said Strong.
In healing, there are two sides of the coin, Strong says. Fathers can be awakened and taught how to be responsible, said Strong. For the person wounded, he says, the difficulty is coming to the realization that he/she is still valuable despite rejection and lack of validation or approval by a father figure.
A deep bitterness or callousness can develop to fill the father-void which may trouble the fatherless child as an adult. Strong has witnessed hardened, grown men break down about absentee fathers.
In his book, Strong recalls the story of 29-year-old Los Angeles gangster Sanyika Shakur, a.k.a. Kody Scott, who at 13, earned the nickname “The Monster,” for disfiguring a man by stomping on him for 20 minutes.
Shakur showed no remorse for his violent life of crime until a reporter brought up his father. “Absent! Missing in Action!” responded Shakur, before he broke down and cried. While his father, a professional football player, was on the field, Shakur said he was on the streets, and “he never came.”
“It can’t be denied that the absence of his father factored into the equation,” Strong wrote. Social scientists have indicated a link between adolescent crime and father absence. But while prison may be the worst case scenario for the fatherless, there is hope for people to overcome.
Strong tells the story of a young man, an unfamiliar face to the church, who sat in for a service at Life Change Christian Center one morning. Strong was speaking to people in the pews about growing up without a father, when after the service, he noticed the same boy crying.
Strong asked the young man in tears what troubled him and the boy said his father abandoned him. Since then, Strong says the boy has maintained a solid relationship with the church and is trying to make peace with himself and his situation.
In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Strong says everybody can do something to help a child that doesn’t have a parent. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Strong and the church continue their work through outreach to mobilize mentors for young people.
Life Change Christian Center offers classes to help young fathers as well as single-moms.
A pastor at Life Change for 25 years, Strong said his passion is about making a difference in people.
“With any issue that’s detrimental to people, altruistically you hope that it will go away, but that’s not reality,” said Strong. “Our goal is that if we can help one family, one child, one hurting adult, then we’ve made it.”