Great Moments in Community Transformation

The ZIP-code sized aspiration of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas


Harry Li arrives at Mosaic in October 2002, the same year the church buys a dilapidated trailer with broken water pipes and chipping paint, and drug needles in its yard.

A Chinese-American professor up for tenure, with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and a NASA grant, Li moves to Little Rock nine months after first meeting DeYmaz.

“We met in a café and he drew the vision for Mosaic on a napkin,” Li says. “I don’t think I slept that night. He totally captured what God was doing in my own heart.”

The two men work to develop and crystallize theological realities through a blending of gifts and perspective.

“Mark is the quintessential visionary,” says Li, now a Mosaic campus pastor in Little Rock. “He walks around with high-powered binoculars. I am the synthesis person. I can translate Mark.”

When it comes to problems of exclusion—racism, justice and equality—they both believe the roots are spiritual. Their shared spiritual model for the new church includes the following:

* Abundant life starts on earth and involves the redemptive work of God in every realm of humanity and creation.

* The church best invests into the development of loving relationships rather than buildings or programs.

* Incarnational ministry participates in redemption by being the community.

* The biblical insistence on unity in the context of diversity comes from Jesus (John 17:20-23), Paul(Ephesians) and the history of the early church (Acts 11:19-26).

* Community engagement and multiethnic ministry require intentionality, inconvenience and perseverance.

* Success measures in influence, not numbers.

* The power of redemption resides in Jesus.

“We tried to picture what worship might look like around the throne of God,” Li says. “Then we imagined trying to emulate that in this particular ZIP code of 72204.”

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Cesar Ortega arrives from Honduras and joins Mosaic at a critical time. On the same week of his arrival, the church moves into an abandoned Walmart on Colonel Glenn Road. When a property “goes dark” such as this one, the owner is likely to accept any offer to lower mortgage and maintenance payments.

For $800 a month, the church accesses 180,000 square feet of space. Leaders begin to see the social and financial structures that will complement the spiritual model DeYmaz and Li had shaped.

In his new position as benevolence pastor, Ortega envisions how best the church might use the space to serve the needs of 72204. At the core of his thinking: the church loves its neighbors.

“The problem is when our heart is thinking ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ” Ortega says. “When God says to love your neighbor, then that’s everyone—African American, rich, poor, Hispanic, it makes no difference.”

Financially, the church wrestles with the question of resources. With 21 percent of its residents living in poverty and a community crime rate four times the national rate, it’s best not to count on money in 72204.

As 125 church members work to clean up and renovate the Walmart building, Ortega initiates partnerships with federal agencies, local food banks, volunteer organizations and other churches to create The Orchard, Mosaic’s food and clothing distribution center.

In its first year, The Orchard serves more than 250 people and Mosaic’s property begins to stir with optimistic activity unknown to this area riddled with drug dealing and prostitution.

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