Ex-Drug Dealers Turn Mennonite Church in Philadelphia Into ‘Redemption Central’ for Addicts and Ex-Offenders

Rev. Juan Marrero during sermon where over seventy-five percent of the congregants are ex-offenders. Christ Centered Church 627 W, Clearfield Street Philadelphia Pa July 2, 2017 ( RAYMOND W HOLMAN JR / For the Philadelphia Inquirer )
Rev. Juan Marrero during sermon where over seventy-five percent of the congregants are ex-offenders. Christ Centered Church 627 W, Clearfield Street Philadelphia Pa July 2, 2017 ( RAYMOND W HOLMAN JR / For the Philadelphia Inquirer )

Jeffery Muldor had a plan to take advantage of a church’s goodwill, without having to give up his heroin highs.

Arrested about two dozen times, he had spent 17 of his 53 years in prison, mostly for dealing drugs. He was out now, and as hooked as ever on his own merchandise.

Christ Centered Church, a Mennonite congregation in the heart of a rough North Philadelphia neighborhood once called the Badlands, offered temporary housing to troubled ex-offenders. Muldor figured he could finagle a spot in the program, get a roof over his head, and keep on using.  He was right, to a point.

The Rev. Juan Marrero picked him up to take him to his new digs, and headed south — straightaway to Gaudenzia Together House, an alcohol and drug treatment center on Spring Garden Street. “And he left me there,” said Muldor, foiled by, of all people, a man of God.

If the Rev. Marrero was wise to the games addicts play, he learned the hard way.  Before joining the clergy, he and his co-pastor, the Rev. Ron Muse, a chaplain with the Philadelphia Prison System, themselves worked the corners as dealers. They had their own bouts with addiction, and tangles with the law.

In other words, the pastors say, they are uniquely qualified for the mission they’ve chosen, as shepherds of redemption central.

Muse, 43, of Northeast Philadelphia, and Marrero, also 43, of Frankford, lead a congregation of 100 members with an experiential bond: incarceration. About 75 percent have served time. Many of the remaining 25 percent are their family members, who watched and worried from outside prison walls.

The sanctuary of Christ Centered Church is a small and spare 65-seater in a storefront at Clearfield and Sheridan Streets in the Fairhill section, more than packed on Sundays for sermons and Bible studies that empathize with the members’ challenges without excusing the life choices they’ve made.

“What good can come out of the Badlands of North Philadelphia?” Marrero, preaching in polo shirt and khaki shorts, roared during a recent service. The question echoed the Bible passage, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asked by the disciple Nathaniel when told the Messiah was from an obscure village in Galilee.  It fit the tough-luck streets the congregants walk every day.

“God specializes in using people who’ve been marginalized for his purpose. You are brand new in him. Are there some transformed folks in here?” he asked, to applause and shouts of “Yes!”

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SOURCE: Kristin E. Holmes 
Philly