Joseph Randall, a Baptist pastor from outside Charlotte, North Carolina, ventured up north to Philadelphia four years ago with hopes of leading a multi-ethnic congregation and bringing together the people of Olney. He now heads Olney Baptist Church.
How does your church give back to the community?
The main thing that we do to help people in the community is tell people about Jesus. We believe that the greatest need for this community is that they know the gospel of Jesus. So, the main thing that we do is, we’re sowing the seed in many old ways. There’s a Pepperidge Farm outlet up in Hatboro that’s been giving us their day-old bread that we then give out to people. A lot of people in the community know me as the guy who gives away bread. We have an elementary dance class that comes to the church to use the building. We have a partnership where they let me come and do a catechism Bible study with them for the first 10 minutes or so of the class and then they do the dance class.
What assistance do you provide to those in need?
We have prayer meetings here at the church on Wednesday nights. On Thursdays, we go to Broad and Olney and we preach on the street with a big megaphone inviting people to the church. Every Sunday we have people over at my home and we eat and have fellowship with one another. We have an addiction class on Thursdays. Friday mornings we go to an abortion clinic at Broad and Olney and try and reach out to women about other options. Saturday mornings we go door to door and invite people of the neighborhood to the church. Even when I run, I take pamphlets with me and invite people to come join us at church. We also have a Vacation Bible School program over the summer that draws in over 120 kids.
Do you see any diversity within your congregation? What kind of effects does it have on the church?
We’re a multi-ethnic church. So we have people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, which is what Revelations says the church should be. Most churches are segregated. We have African-Americans, whites, Haitians, Jamaicans, a Korean family and a Chinese lady. I want to encourage and cultivate that. We had racial harmony on Sunday, which is where I preach that we’re all made in the image of God, that we all come from one man, and there’s only one race: the human race.
What changes would you like to see in Olney?
My biggest desire would be to see the community come to love Jesus. I’d love to see other churches filled with vibrant believers in Jesus the same way we do. I think through that, there would be more love in the community. When I first came here, there was a different environment and I would keep a log of violent crimes in the area. There were a lot, but thankfully the number seems to have gone down. So my prayer would be that God will work in people’s lives, so that violence continues to decrease. I also pray that God will someday close the abortion clinics in our neighborhood.
What’s your favorite memory or experience since you’ve been a leader within the community?
My favorite memories are when I preach God’s word and then see peoples lives change. A couple of weeks ago I was able to go with a young woman who was pregnant and scared and didn’t know what to do. It was amazing to see the joy in her heart when she gave up her baby for adoption. I recently had a young man come from Drexel [University] to get baptized. It was special to see how excited he was to follow Jesus. Yesterday, a woman told me that she never thought about the fact that we are all one race and how that ought to amaze us. Everyone is the same from the homeless man on 5th Street to the president of the United States. It moved me to see her get excited about that and to see how the word of God changes people.
-Text and images by Amanda Thompson and Kevin Troilo