LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Unity Bible Baptist Church often takes food, the Gospel and other necessities to residents of the Loop, the blighted urban community the church calls home.
During Unity Pastor Maurice Brister’s childhood in the Loop, he lived directly across from Greater Paradise Baptist Church with his grandmother Gertrude Myers, who found something for him to do at church “seven days a week.” He remembers the mentoring of a neighborhood man who found worthwhile activities for Brister and others when the city provided few.
“One of our main things is to work within the community,” he says of Unity Church, the 60-member congregation he has led five years. Instead of taking mission trips, the church sees the “community as its mission field.”
Brister credits Geyer Springs First Baptist Church, where he learned about church planting, with showing him the benefits of the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program in spreading the Gospel. That’s one of the reasons he still finds room in his modest budget to give to the CP. The church gave 3.5 percent of its $68,313 in undesignated gifts to the CP in 2020, or $2,400.
“My main goal is to build the kingdom; that’s what it’s all about,” Brister said. “Just like someone else took the time out with me and put me in the right position and helped with the finances, I feel like that’s what we need to do also, do the exact same thing — give back.”
Unity gives to the Cooperative Program to support church planters in spreading the Gospel.
“We want to be able to plant churches everywhere and I want to be able to help those that’s trying to start,” Brister said.
When he came to Unity five years ago, the church was suffering decline after the founding pastor relocated. Brister was serving in ministry and learning about church planting at the majority-white Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock when Unity asked him to preach. Months later, Unity called Brister as its pastor.
Don Chancellor, Pulaski Baptist Association director of missions, commends Brister for helping revitalize the church and helping its surrounding community.
Brister “approached it sort of like a replant, and they’ve done well,” Chancellor said. “He’s done a good job reaching out.”
Unity is similar in size to the majority of churches in the Pulaski Association. Of 55 churches, Chancellor said 35 average less than 50 in Sunday attendance.
“If our small churches don’t reach out to their communities, then our communities aren’t going to be reached,” Chancellor said. “Churches like Unity and other churches are indispensable when it comes to getting the Gospel to Little Rock and cities like Little Rock, obviously using the resources that they have.”
Unity supports nearby Watson Elementary School by giving motivational talks to the student body, feeding the staff on Teacher Appreciation Day, and buying the students Christmas gifts through an Angel Tree outreach. The church distributes backpacks full of school supplies twice a year to students at Watson and other schools. Unity hosts an annual communitywide Back to School party with games and spiritual enrichment.
“We have led some to Christ,” Brister said. “We ensure we spread the Good News. If 300 people come through and one gets it, but everybody heard it.”
The church feeds about 80 adults each Christmas and Thanksgiving at Little Rock Compassion Center, distributes as many as 100 blessing bags each winter to the homeless, distributes Ziploc bags of school supplies at Community Night Out each October, and picks up trash from the streets during citywide cleanup each March.
“I grew up in the same type of environment,” Brister said. “I was blessed with a young man that used to go around pickup up all the kids, all the males, and making them play football to get them off the streets. This started at an early age with me, at 9 years old, seeing how he took all his time to take care of the young men, trying to pull them off the streets. So that was a drive for me to do the exact same thing, not only just men, but women also.”
Brister’s wife Ladine, a school teacher, ministers to women as the pastor ministers to men.
Brister said the neighborhood has declined since the 1990s, when street drugs and gang violence hit the area. When Brister was a child, the area was considered one of Little Rock’s finest. But when he retired from 10 years in the Army, he returned home to find his community deteriorating.
Brister encourages other similarly situated pastors to bless others as God has blessed them.
“This is what I tell them, ‘You just keep doing what you’re supposed to do and the Lord is going to take care of the rest,’” Brister said. “We have to move ourselves out of the way. When we step in, that’s when we have all the problems when it comes to giving. But he blessed you with it; give it back.”