River Church in Cahokia Heights serves as a beacon of hope

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CAHOKIA HEIGHTS, Ill. – In an area with no shortage of vacant buildings and empty lots, River Church in Cahokia Heights finds its parking lot full on Sunday mornings.

Bishop Mitchel Ford said it is faith, hope and commitment that make their church a welcoming place.

“Regardless of what is happening around you, there is a light in this area that is looking for help from people,” Bishop Ford said.

Bishop Ford said light lives in Cahokia Heights residents who walk through the doors of the church that was once the Bond Ave. Missionary Baptist Church, transitioning to its new name.

“We’re a little bit different, you know, as you’ll see when we go to worship, you’ll understand why we made this particular change,” he said.

Bishop Ford isn’t afraid of the struggles and heartaches that happen outside of the church, because Cahokia Heights is the combination of Cahokia, Centerville, and Alorton.

“I’ve buried or held funerals for at least 15 young people under 21 and it breaks my heart,” Ford said.

He said any life lost to violence is unfortunate, Ford said the church was vigilant in reminding its members to stay vocal, stay visible and stay invaluable.

“It’s not where you come from, it’s where you end up,” Ford said.

His son, Pastor Mitchel Ford Jr., is ready to help carry the message. Ford Jr. said he views the empty buildings and vacant lots as a humble reminder.

“Empty is good because it means we have work to do,” Ford Jr. said.

Instead of letting a building go to waste, the church turned it into an extension of the church.

“Down the street, the old Centerville Elementary, and we’ve moved everything we do outside of Sunday morning service to that building,” Ford Jr. said.

The building served as a venue for community activities, as The River Church brings the community together any day of the week.

Ford Jr. said no matter the day, what’s important is the message they put out.

“You can receive this message of hope, this message of peace, and live a life that is what God says in the word, ‘an abundant life,'” he said.

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