It could be daunting to take over the reins as lead pastor for a church your famous parents planted in 2012, but for Alvin Love III, 35, it was a natural progression that was initially inspired by a powerful encounter he had on a visit to Melbourne Life Church in Australia.
“It was something that was just surprisingly personal and I guess invasive a little bit. I felt like God was looking at me and only me. And that was the first time for me to where I just felt that much attention and that much focus from God and it stopped me in my tracks. I was only planning on staying in Australia for three months. I decided to stay nine months because the discipleship course that the church offered was a nine-month class,” said Love.
From that encounter, Love began sharing his experience with his friends and family and what he felt was in his heart. He learned that a number of his friends were also taking steps to a deeper connection with God. Over the next year, pastors and leaders from Melbourne Life Church came to Nashville and ministered to him and his friends at his parents’ home. It was their ministry that launched Nashville Life Church with 38 members and Pastors Alvin Love II and CeCe Winans as Senior Pastors. Now, in 2020, with about 400 members, he and his friends are leading the congregation. Although some changes are happening, they are learning as they go.
“I’m very different from my parents, but our church has been a collaborative effort. My dad and mom brought me pretty close to the core of what was happening. So though I was never the leader from a governmental and even spiritual point, I’ve always had a prominent voice in the building of the culture and what we have. I think the change is less because I’m in charge and more because I’m evolving and we’re getting better and better,” said Love.
It’s a multicultural church and very diverse in a lot of ways; not just racially, but politically, philosophically, and economically. As would be expected, that naturally has caused some division within the church that Love has had to address head-on. Rather than pick a side or using his platform to speak politically, he emphasizes not letting politics divide the church.
“There’s always been Democrats and Republicans. There’s always been all types of people, and that’s okay. I don’t think that your Christian faith has to dictate where you lean politically, however, as believers, we should never let politics serve as a tool to divide the church that God has called to be one,” said Love.
So what does he believe they should be focused on? What Love says are the “basic beliefs — being a community of faith amidst the social, health, and political unrest. They had to do things a little differently with COVID. Previously, they’d gather more with 12-week small groups. Now, they’re focused on being a source of life and faith for people wherever they are, whether at work, in the neighborhood, or elsewhere. He encourages his members to reach out to people who aren’t part of their church community, or perhaps they’re at the edge of not believing at all.
“Our faith can be that boost they need to come closer to God. I think fear is at an all-time high. I think suicidal thoughts, and mental illness is at an all-time high. And that’s what we’re seeing in our own city. And I think, if nothing else, just the idea of having faith and believing that things are going to turn around and believing that God is still in control and he still loves us, “ said Love.
Love says even as a pastor he has been affected by the woes of 2020 — the isolation, the discouragement, and looking at an Instagram feed and only seeing re-postings of shootings, and deaths, and COVID numbers going up. A lot of the depressing news happened in the months leading to him transitioning as the senior pastor. Not to mention, he had to navigate CDC guidelines for churches and determine whether they should even meet in person. He gets what people are feeling, but he’s trying to lead by example.
“I have been hit by pressures, and I’ve been vulnerable to anxiety, but it’s the fight to stand on the rock of God’s Word that has allowed me to not only still be standing, but to still be thriving, and to be able to preach, and to be able to live life and have joy is a testament that this works, God works. And the Holy Spirit is definitely a sustainer.”
Before Dwayne A. Jones even landed in the country with the nonprofit group, he immediately started seeking out churches, not realizing how big Ghana is. The first church that came up was Amazing Grace Gospel International church. He found a name on the site to contact — Isaac Akorli. When Dwayne arrived in Ghana with the Habitat group, Isaac was waiting for him at the airport, having traveled 8 hours by bus to meet him.
“When he got there, he didn’t have anywhere to stay, so I invited him to stay in the room with my roommate and me from the Habitat group. We talked and chit-chatted. He wanted me to come to visit. I said, ‘No, I can’t separate from my team. This is my first time in the country, and I’m with a group of people.’ So I promised him that I would make another trip and come back,” said Jones.
And he did. It was the beginning of a friendship and shared ministry that would last nearly 20 years. Jones fell in love with the kids, people, and culture in Ghana.
Jones returned the following year and visited Isaac in the Volta Region, west of Togo. Isaac had active ministries there in about eight churches, seven in Ghana and one in Togo. Jones, an ordained Baptist minister at New Olivet Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, preached, baptized people in the ocean, and held a revival for eight days.
“I think it was 26 different locations. It was a great experience and some challenges too. When I was baptizing in the ocean there, they had to tie a rope around me to keep me from being pulled out by the waves,” said Jones.
He returned to Ghana several times with his teams. In addition to his ministry, Jones wanted to help the people. He initially focused on building houses as he did with Habitat. The people were always gracious, but as time went on and he traveled to remote villages and had one-on-one meetings with village chiefs, he started to ask people what they wanted, and housing wasn’t a priority.
“They said, ‘We don’t have a problem with housing. We need something for health care. We need something to educate our children. We’re okay living in little mud huts and little houses,” said Jones.
Have Faith Orphanage children in class learning to speak Portuguese.
With that, Jones, now 54, started to shift the focus of his trips. He partnered up with Americares, a global nonprofit organization focused on health and development that responds to individuals affected by poverty, disaster, or crisis, and arranged for doctors and different health care professionals to provide medical care in churches. On one of his trips, he brought a pediatrician from his church who took care of many kids with childhood obesity, diabetes, blood pressure, colds, and rashes. The medical professionals gave HIV/AIDS tests and educated women about personal hygiene items, birth control, diabetes, and blood pressure.
Have Faith Orphanage teens listening to Jones preach.
Often, well-intentioned foreign volunteers will come with their agenda for helping people in other countries. Jones was able to have a significant impact by simply asking people what they needed. That’s how the idea for creating a school to teach sewing came to fruition. He set up a meeting with the West Africa AIDS Foundation (WAAF), had an informal conversation, and took notes. There he learned about The Almond Tree, an income-generating project created for people living with HIV and AIDS in Accra, Ghana, by WAAF in partnership with the AIDS Committee of London in Canada. In The Almond Tree’s program, people make clothes, hats, and all kinds of items to sell. However, outside of Accra, poor people who wanted to do the same thing didn’t have electricity in the remote areas.
“I went to an internet café where they have old computers connected up to car batteries. I did some research, and I found out we could buy a sewing machine for $50. So I went and bought 15-16 sewing machines. We went to the remote village and took them there. Put them up on a table, and they screened women and brought women in, and they set up training to teach women how to sew and how to become self-sufficient by selling the clothes,” said Jones.
That training facility was named the Amazing Grace Sewing School.
Over the years, Jones’ missionary travels have expanded beyond Ghana and into India and Haiti. He has brought anywhere from two to eight people on various trips, including family, friends, educators, preachers, people who want to do construction, and church members. The only requirement is that they understand it’s a faith-based Christian trip, and they’ll need to participate and accept ministry opportunities, no matter where they are in their faith. It’s not a vacation. That said, it does take a lot out of him.
“Every time I go on a mission trip, I come back more tired than when I left. For one, it’s spiritually draining, and two, the travel … being a team leader, there’s a lot of logistics between food, immunizations, safety, internet access, currency exchange, lodging, coordinating with the host, and just making sure people have a great experience. It’s always stressful for me, but I’ve been doing it long enough it gets easier with time. There’s a lot involved before I go,” said Jones.
Danger and Corruption
Being a missionary can have dangerous consequences. In 2005, Jones was in Togo when Gnassingbe Eyadéma, the president of Togo at the time, died of a heart attack. Eyadéma’s son was attempting to take over the government, and a war broke out. He was trapped in Togo and couldn’t get out. They had shut the country down, and the border was closed.
“In Togo, the country’s national language is French, but they have that native African tongue. I didn’t speak French or the native tongue. There was a guy who was an interpreter, and we’re at the internet café. We see these guys in big pickup trucks with bandanas and suits on, and I said, ‘Oh, we got a soccer gang.’ You know I didn’t know what was going on,” said Jones. “I had to call the embassy, and they were sending some Apache helicopters, but the pastor was able to negotiate with the people at the border, and they got me out of the country.”
And then there are the nefarious activities of corrupt people. In 2020, even with the COVID pandemic raging, he traveled to the Have Faith Mission Orphanage in Haiti. No one came in or left except the teachers. Even he only left twice during his stay. At the orphanage, they follow the US protocols with mask-wearing. However, Jones said around town that wasn’t the case. He pointed out that at the time, very few people were diagnosed with COVID. In the two days he was there, they had zero cases. That said, he was asked multiple times in the airport to see his negative COVID test.
“It was four checks to see if you had your COVID test and a temperature check on your forehead before you could even get to baggage claim,” said Jones.
Like his visits to Africa, he tried to bring the Haitian kids vitamins, medicine, support items for personal hygiene, education supplies, and even some toys and fun things. In Haiti, the orphans haven’t necessarily lost their parents. In many cases, the parents aren’t able to care for their children, but they still maintain a relationship. It’s like foster care, adoption, and an orphanage all in one. However, he didn’t make it out of the airport without people stealing some of his supplies and goodies.
“I had 12 bags of candy for the kids. They stole candy at customs,” said Jones. “I had 14 little fire tablets for them to do wifi and go online. The airport police wanted to take those, but they extorted $100 instead. The guy was there from the orphanage and everything.”
Jones says he’s had customs agents demand money for his medicines, and they’ve confiscated syringes and items to treat diabetes. But in one particular case, the corruption resulted in souls being saved. Jones had to return to the airport a few times to get all of his luggage. One time on his way back to the airport, he saw a little girl walking down the street. The people he was with dismissed her as a peasant girl, but he wanted to talk to her. With a translator, he learned her name was Nadez and that she was from a remote village and hungry. He got her some food and made her one of those twisty balloons entertainers often give young kids.
“I ended up asking her, ‘Do you know Jesus?’ She said no. So I told her a story about Jesus Christ and asked her if she’d like to accept Jesus. She said yes. So I prayed with her right there. She accepted Jesus, and before I left, there were 200 and some people there who accepted Jesus at the airport,” said Jones. “I’d go with one intention, and then something else happened. I’d tell people maybe there was a reason my medicine was confiscated from me so that I could meet Nadez.”
I Build By Faith
Jones and children from Have Faith Orphanage.
Jones is an international missionary, but he also has a construction business. He received a degree in architectural engineering from Tennessee State University and a master’s in management from the University of Phoenix, where he’s currently working toward a Ph.D. in organizational management. Dwayne A. Jones Construction Company, LLC, is what has helped to fund his missionary trips. As much as he’s accomplished around the world, he’s also created a name for himself by taking on poverty in the United States through building personal “tiny houses” for the homeless, organizing bike drives, and sprouting up community gardens. But poverty in the United States still isn’t like it is in Haiti or Africa.
“It’s totally different because even with our people in poverty, they have way more means and access. It’s on a scale that will blow your mind because if a person is in poverty here in the United States, they have access to running water somewhere, even if you take a homeless person. They can go to a restaurant, and they can go to use the bathroom facility. In Haiti, you don’t have running water anywhere,” said Jones.
He puts all of his community service efforts and ministries under the umbrella organization of “I Build By Faith.” It started out as connecting his faith to his construction business and profession, but now it’s all about community building and changing lives. Jones says the most significant difference between Haiti and Africa is the distance when it comes to poverty.
“The same construction, people, same food, same problems, same poverty, they’re just in a different place. It is so similar, it’s eerie,” said Jones. “I would like to provide a facility where young people here in my community, Orange Mound (Memphis, TN), can help rebuild this community and be an international hub to bring children from Haiti and Africa to Orange Mound and take kids from Orange Mound to those countries and get that exposure. I want to make a global educational facility for both sets of children, here and abroad. This is pre-pandemic, but I still believe by faith that it can happen.”
CeCe Winans has a new album coming out in March called “Believe For It,” and she debuted a few songs at her first live, virtual special called “An Evening of Thanksgiving,” which aired on February 21 at 7 p.m. CST.
Compassion International, a Christian ministry aimed at finding sponsors for children worldwide, has partnered with Winans for the event. She’s also a strong supporter of their work and has sponsored a few children herself. It’s a fitting partnership, given new songs are meant to encourage people, and that’s how she sees the work of Compassion.
“I get excited about partnering with organizations that are doing something that brings life, and Compassionate International does that. They make a difference, and they put a smile on kids’ faces who otherwise wouldn’t have hope. They bring hope,” says Winans. “They bring peace, food, water, clothing, and education. They give them something that will enhance their life, not just for a moment.”
I had an opportunity to chat with CeCe about her new songs, the virtual event, and her son taking on a new leadership role in their church.
You’ve had so much music success. Can you share what’s unique in the new music that’s coming out? What can fans look forward to?
It’s my first live record, and it’s music that encourages you to sing along. I think that’s something that people can look forward to. I’m doing a lot of songs that maybe you’ve heard before, maybe not, but I know that a lot of people have sung them in their churches. I wanted to create something that people and churches and everybody could sing along with. So it’s definitely a CD that’s filled with praise and celebration. Everybody needs some hope right now.
Tell us about the creative process during the making of your new album.
I’ve always determined songs by how they’ve ministered to me. I believe that if it hits my heart, it’s going to hit other people’s hearts. But the title of the record is called “Believe For It.” And this was the last song that came in when we decided we had all of our songs, but we felt something was missing. We really liked it [the album], but it seemed like we needed something else with the theme or something that will kind of, I don’t know, just put us in the frame of mind that we need to be in.
And my producers, Kyle Lee and Dwan Hill, got together, and they started writing with another young man, and they came back, and they played one song for me, and it was a good song. And I was like, that’s good, but that’s not it. And we kept going because, again, we had a strong record already, but we all kind of agreed that we needed something else. Another part of the puzzle was missing. And then they came with the song, Believe For It. And when I heard it — that’s it! That’s it! We all agreed, and I even did some writing on it to finish it up. But it is just the message of hope that everyone needs to hear. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. You need to brush yourself off, brush those dreams off and start to believe again.
You’re so passionate about the work of Compassion International. Have you ever sponsored a child?
I’ve been sponsoring kids for years. And you go into this thinking you’re going to be a blessing to them, and you WILL be a blessing to them, but it ends up coming back to your life in so many ways. I know my kids are blessed.
Giving blesses your life. When I went to visit some of these kids years ago, and I saw the level of poverty that they lived in, first of all, my heart was just broken. I mean, they walk miles and miles for dirty water, contaminated water. I’m talking 10 miles.
And then you see where they live. And the first thing you realize is, “What am I complaining about? Why do I have to complain about anything?” They had this joy on their faces. And so when I came home years ago, I told my kids, “Oh no, no, no. We are going to live our lives differently.” And they were probably looking at me like, “Mom, what are you talking about?” You have to live a whole different way. Because of that, I know I’ve been blessed. I get excited about compassionlive.com. I pray that everybody will tune in, but not just tuning in, go and sponsor a child because even coming out of 2020, people who are brokenhearted, people who have lost their job, people who need major blessings in their lives, I’m telling you the way to break through is to give.
I understand your son is taking on more of a leadership role in your church, Nashville Life Church in Nashville, TN. What does that mean to you personally and to your family?
My husband and I started this church eight years ago, and it was birthed really through my son and his friends. When we started, it was all millennials, and our church is filled with millennials. And then my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Really, God? You want us to pastor?” We’re like, “Okay, here we go.” But my son started with all of his friends, and God just did work in my son’s heart. And he started witnessing and getting people to feel with the Holy Spirit. Leading people, should I say, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
It started in my home with 35 people. And the Lord told my husband when we started eight years ago that my son would pastor. So we were the founding pastors, and my son has been pastoring along with us all of these years. The transition that we made three weeks ago is him being lead pastor, and now we’re the founding pastors. It’s just exciting because even within those three weeks, it’s like growth is happening the way he’s anointed to do it. And my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, thank God. We at least carried it for eight years.” We didn’t make it work. We knew that we were in the will of God doing what we did, but we knew it was always about him and this generation.
It’s not like we’re retiring, but we are definitely in the background encouraging, pushing him, and just covering him. It’s exciting to see and not only him, but all the young people, our staff, are taking it over, and they’re the Joshua generation. It’s time.
Black History 365 includes originally composed music by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with notables such as Jay-Z, the late Nipsey Hustle, and Ludacris. This snippet of video is from a webcast about the project.
Dr. Walter Milton, Jr., remembers the shame he felt back in elementary school when his teacher announced to the class that they were going to learn about Black history and then started with slavery. He said he wanted to hide under the table. But later when he returned home that night, he also remembers the impact his parents had on his spirit when they explained that African Americans are descendants of ancient kings and queens. Dr. Milton and his partner, Dr. Joel Freeman, want other children to have that same impactful, eye-opening experience about Black history and that’s why they created the Black History 365 education curriculum.
“We want to give the students this whole experience about the Moors, the hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture, all these different aspects how the civilizations began throughout ancient Africa,” said Dr. Freeman, who has included his personal photo collection of artifacts from Africa in the curriculum. “So, there’s images from the collection, where I’ve had people of African descent say, ‘Wow, I almost feel like I’m in that picture. I see my ancestors. I see myself there.’”
Both Milton and Freeman have strong educational and professional bonafides to take on a mission of bringing Black history to life in an innovative and technological way that will capture the heart and spirit of a new generation. Milton served as a school superintendent for twelve years in the states of New York, Michigan, and Illinois, and he taught at several universities across the United States. He’s also published several books addressing issues related to Black parents, schools, and education. Freeman served as player development mentor and character coach for the Washington Bullets/Wizards For 20 NBA seasons. He has also worked with the Association of International Schools for Africa (AISA), traveling extensively throughout the continent of Africa and conducting a number of training events for educators, government, and business leaders. Genuine documents and artifacts from Dr. Freeman’s personal collection have been showcased in exhibitions at the United Nations, White House, and Clinton Presidential Library.
“I met Joel when I was a superintendent back in Springfield, Illinois,” said Milton, adding that a friend of his insisted that he’d have a lot to talk about with the historian, who he called a “brother, but not a brother.” Milton was perplexed. “He’s a white guy? I said, okay, a white guy with Black history. No problem. So Joel and I met each other and the rest is history. He was one of the first persons that I called to start this project,” said Milton.
A Peek Inside Black History 365
When you first see the Black History 365 curriculum book, it looks like any other textbook. But take a peek inside and that’s where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The artifacts from Dr. Freeman’s collection are sprinkled throughout the beautifully designed schoolbook, which begins with a chapter on Ancient Africa and ends with George Floyd. Students can scan QR codes with their smart phones that lead to originally composed music by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with notables such as Jay-Z, the late Nipsey Hustle, and Ludacris. Cates has a doctorate in education and through his own educational program called Bridging Da Gap, he has produced more than 600 songs for K-12 grade levels. The music is meant to engage listeners, but the QR codes also link to relevant people and places related to the subject matter. The eBook version of the book will have music and videos embedded right in it, no WIFI needed. An app is in development, too, as a way to integrate current events.
“Everyone around the country who downloads the app will get a spritz of information every morning. And then it creates this technological ecosystem where a teacher can start a class with that,” said Dr. Freeman. “Hey guys, what did you think about what you saw this morning…at the dinner table…in the grocery store? Whatever it might be, it can be sparked with these conversations.”
That said, the opportunity to bring in conversations is already a staple in the book. The “Elephant Experience” is a sidebar area to the core content of the text. It represents an opportunity to talk about hot topics that are often not so easy to discuss. In other words, the “elephant in the room.” The co-founders wanted to provide a resource that would invite students, educators, parents, and anyone else who engages with the material to become critical thinkers, compassionate listeners, fact-based and respectful communicators, and action-oriented people with solutions.
“One of the things we wanted to do with this elephant experience is deal with topics like three fifths of the human being and reparations. What about tearing down statues? And are we in a post-racial society since we had a Black president for two terms? Did Africans sell Africans into slavery? Topics that people butt heads about or talk past each other or just unfriend each other on Facebook,” said Dr. Freeman.
The Black History 365 project has expanded beyond the talents of Dr. Milton, Dr. Freeman, and Dr. Cates. The team now includes 30 additional expert educators, trainers, and instructors. Learn more at BlackHistory365education.com.