On a warm summer night in May 2007, 4-year-old Jasmine Owens was shot dead while jumping rope in her front yard. This tragedy was the catalyst to catapult minister Richard Brown and his wife into full-time ministry. Violence and crime were starting to become commonplace in their beloved city of Milwaukee, and they were prepared to do something about it. Brown says through this event God revealed these were symptoms of a much later issue--life without the salvation and comfort of Jesus Christ.
There is a saying in Milwaukee: If you throw a rock from one spot, you’ll hit a bar or a church. There are a lot of churches and, as a result, resources are spread thin. The church faces a few challenges, including simply being a traditional church. There are a large number of people who have been hurt by a church or have heard about hypocrisy. Many people are against the church as soon as it opens its doors.
“People gravitate to the thought of rubbing God’s belly and making a wish,” Brown said. “There was a preacher saying, ‘If you’re in debt, give me $1,000 dollars and God will clean up your debt.' Talk about deception.”
With all of these considerations, including people's strong refusal to enter a church, false doctrine and the abuse of the poor, Brown decided to start serving in high-crime areas, setting up six-hour community lunches. Free hot dogs, corn and soda with a Christian urban arts performance, brought people in. The Browns partnered with a local church, so as people committed their lives to Christ there was someone there to help them begin their Christian walk. Brown connected urban churches with suburban church volunteers.
"To date, these churches still partner with each other," Brown said. "What an awesome picture of how the church can work together despite racial and socioeconomic differences."
There is an expansive need for discipleship, evangelism and reconciliaton among believers. In 2013, Brown worked with Converge Great Lakes executive minister Dr. Dwight Perry to launch a non-traditional church ministry. Brown started The Captive Project as a resource to existing churches to show the body of Christ working together. Due to the uniqueness of Milwaukee and its churches, leaders need more education and many can’t afford the cost.
“At The Captive Project, what we do is become the church to the church. The awesome thing about the Captive Project model is it can be used in any area where there is a marginalized group of people,” Brown said. “We have a library we call the Mountainside, where they learn all about God and how they can become a better disciple for Jesus Christ.”
When Brown became a Christian, he spent a lot of time in a Christian library learning all he could. He says it also kept him out of the environment where trouble brewed. Brown hosts studies and uses educational DVDs to teach classes. They purposefully answer tough questions people in their community are facing, such as, How do you know Christianity is the only way? Don’t all religions lead to God?
“We really help people understand the logic behind the Word of God,” Brown said. “We get people past difficult barriers without having to get a Ph.D.”
Currently, 40 people participate in the discipleship program. The Captive Project also has hosted more than 70 outreach programs and is in the process of building a life-size replica of the Tabernacle of Moses that will debut this sometime this year.
“The tabernacle is a non-threatening piece that is the foundation of all denominations,” Brown said. “It’s the first time after the Garden of Eden when the presence of God dwelt among his people.”
The tabernacle will be completely mobile, so they can move it around the city. There will be volunteers to guide groups of people through it, explaining what each room is and what each piece symbolizes. The requirements for the tabernacle are very specific and the various structures and furnishings are in progress toward completion. The cherubim are being chromed in New York and will be the focal point. Brown believes many people will come to know Christ through this exhibit.