Small storefront churches bring hope to where it's needed most .
She was there for about three years when her husband contracted cancer. She closed the rehab and cared for him until his death in 1998.
But as Bunton was caring for others, the social and spiritual problems she'd fought so hard against struck her own family. Despite all her efforts to eliminate drug problems in the neighborhood, her own son developed a drug addiction.
Sitting in an office in the back of her church, Bunton starts to look tired when asked about her son's past addiction. Though he's there in the new church with her, bringing people in, offering counseling and freely sharing his own experience, it still pains Mother Bunton to speak of his addiction.
Her voice lowers to a whisper when asked how she felt when she learned her son was using drugs.
"I was devastated," she says. "My son, oh God, I don't know. He was reared in the church, and as matter of fact, he was called into the ministry at a very early age, and I was devastated [to learn about his addiction]. I asked the Lord to rescue him."
She lowers her head and purses her lips as she speaks of her son stealing from her and losing respect for himself during an on and off addiction that spanned 30 years. But she speaks clearly of the way she responded.
"I actually said this to God. I said, 'If I mean anything to you, and the work that I've done, if it means anything to you, rescue my child.' And God did.
"My son was out there for years. Nobody knows what it's like, but God is God. He proved himself to be real. I knew he was real when God miraculously rescued my son. I knew that it was almighty God, because my son had gone down to the bottom of the totem pole. He didn't even want to bathe. I knew he would either wind up in jail or the graveyard. And I had to do something. I knew that something had to be done, so I just stretched out before God. And God did it. He did it. He did it for me."
Tears well up in her eyes and spill out onto her cheeks as she repeats what she has come to know through her years in ministry.
"This is real," she says fervently. "God is real. God is real, son. He's real."
By 1 o'clock in the afternoon, Bunton's parishioners--many of whom are former addicts, or prostitutes, or both--are dancing in the aisles. At least 50 people are there, shouting to the pulsing rhythms of a synthesizer and drum.
Sweat and tears mingle against their faces as they reflect on past lives and thank God for bringing them out of their misery. They shout to the top of their lungs as the worship leader yells praise into a microphone.
The music stops, then starts again as a woman stands in the middle of the floor, doubled over with emotion as she repeats a shouted, "Oh God, thank you!"
This continues, forever it seems, and when it stops, another woman who has been shouting all the while stands up to tell everyone why she's so happy.
"Thank you God for delivering me from cocaine," she says unabashedly. "I wish I would have never picked it up, but I'm free. These are my grandchildren. This is my husband. Thank God for my home, my pastor. God is delivering in my home and in my church.
"I used to come in these doors and try to get two or three dollars so I could get my hit. Now I can give y'all five dollars!"
Moments later, after a young mother of six stands up and recites a poem about overcoming abuse at the hands of a man, two children stand to sing a Kirk Franklin duet, and a children's choir sings a song.
When her son, the former addict, stands up to preach the sermon, Mother Bunton, who is seated at the front of the church, sits back and smiles knowingly.
Mimi’s on the run. After five years of being whipped with burning wire, pummeled by bare fists and having her skull repeatedly smashed into concrete, the childlike 20-year-old—who’s had nearly 30 pimps since she was 15—is running as fast as she can from a life inside the teen-sex industry. Two months into her escape, she remains in hiding in New Jersey. If a former pimp catches up with her, she could be killed. Mimi hopes to find salvation in Philadelphia, at a safe haven called Dawn’s Place. Right now Dawn’s Place isn’t fully functional. The building is purchased and painted and permits are secured, but the board of directors is still seeking sustainable funding...
The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide
PW's Winter Coffee Tour