The 21st century church faces different challenges than it did only a generation ago. To address these issues, the Rev. Robert and Margaret Washington are birthing a non-denominational church called Family Healing and Touch Institute - and the doors are open to everyone.
Founders of a 501c3 non profit organization called Elimika (which is Swahili for "to get knowledge or to educate"), the couple are on a mission to strengthen men, marriages and families through Bible study, marriage seminars, prayer partners and accountability partners.
Trusting God to send workers and supply their needs, they are looking for people who share their burden for our community, who can teach and who want to be in a core group. Washington's sister, Robbye Tucker, an educator in Phoenix, Ariz., is deeply involved in writing some of the materials and in the development of this church.
"We want to put people in ministry," said the pastor. "Our vision for this church is that one day other churches will come to Family Healing and Touch Institute to find out how to do church and shift the paradigm from meeting, eating and going home to doing God's will on this earth."
The son of an A.M.E. pastor and a missionary mother, Washington believes it is important to stop complaining about how bad society is and to start doing something about it.
"We need to get back to God's word and applying it to our lives," said the pastor. "We want to help people experience God's word in their lives and get in touch with the power that God has for us. I want all men to be mature Christian men and head up their family and teach their family like God wants them to."
Their ministry is based on the passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."
Margaret Washington has developed a 20-week Bible study prayer program for the Elimika Foundation called RAP (Reporting and Praying), which teaches youth ages 13-25 years old a weekly Bible story, an application, a prayer and scripture references. It is designed to connect the youth with mentors to ensure accountability as they study the Bible at home or at church. RAP was recently implemented at St. Paul A.M.E. Church. The idea is for the mentor to look at the lessons, make sure that the material has been understood, pray and sign off on the lesson in order for the young person to go to the next level. Parents are encouraged to accept the role of mentor and get involved in the study.
"So many parents are busy, and they really don't have time to sit down and have a Bible study at home and many don't pray with their children," said Margaret.
Before retiring and moving from California to Covington two years ago, the couple was heavily involved in missionary work and recruited for Family Life in their area and facilitated a couple's ministry, weekly Bible studies and marriage seminars.
Margaret spent 30 years working in finance and gained experience in planning and writing training manuals. She led a missionary group, taught Sunday school for both children and adults, spoke to women's groups and served as financial secretary for the church.
Born in Winter Haven, Fla., Washington served in the Army Medical Corps for nine years in Germany and Korea. He received his R.N. credentials from St. Francis School of Nursing and graduated in 1972 from Kings County School of Anesthesia.
Washington recalled his salvation experience when a group with Campus Crusade came to his house and wanted to put up a sign in his window that said, "I got it!"
"They ministered to me and I accepted Christ in 1978 and joined the church," said Washington. "I attended Shiloh Bible College in Oakland, Calif., the Bay City Bible Institute in Berkley, Calif., and took courses from the Golden Gate Theological Seminary."
Washington is licensed and ordained in the Baptist Church and in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He served as the associate pastor at College Park Baptist Church, Las Vegas, Nev., Community Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, Calif., Park Haven Baptist Church in Concord, Calif., and as the assistant pastor at the 2000-member Palma Ceia Baptist Church, in Hayward, Calif., where he met his wife.
Married for 17 years, Washington has one unmarried son, Robert Warren Washington, Jr. in Pittsburgh, and Margaret has three sons, Richard and Gregory Bostick and Malik Hassan, and has 10 grandchildren, all who live in California.
Washington came to Atlanta to a worldwide missionary conference and was motivated by speaker Dr. Michael Johnson, a surgeon at a mission in Kenya. Anxious to serve, the couple went to Kenya for one month in 1994. Margaret worked in the accounting office at the hospital. Washington worked along side Dr. Johnson, teaching medical procedures in resuscitation, sterilization and anesthesiology.
The Kenya trip inspired the couple to resign their jobs and go to Las Vegas for mission work. Washington became the evangelism outreach minister and Margaret served as administrative assistant for a 400-member, predominately Caucasian Baptist Church where their outreach ministry grew to 250 people as a result of changing the visitation from weekly to monthly. Margaret was instrumental in reorganizing the food and clothing pantry.
"When they came for food, we ministered to them and used those names for outreach, and some became part of the church," said the pastor's wife. "We worked there for three years and returned to California until we retired in 2005."
At age 68, Washington said this is the most exciting part of his whole life and he is eager about the direction that God has given him for the church. Margaret spoke about her husband's passion for what he believes in and how they rely on each other's strengths.
"My wife knows a great deal about organization," said the pastor. "She is a teacher, discerner, facilitator, and has compassion for others. We hold each other accountable for God's word and for applying God's word in our lives."
Currently, Family Healing and Touch Institute are meeting in cell groups. For more information, call (678) 625-0655.