Madison Pentecostal Assembly celebrates 25 years
A spiritual silver rights struggle


By Jonathan Gramling

Part 3 of 3

    It certainly must have been by faith alone that led Bishop Eugene Johnson and his wife Carolyn to come to Madison in the fall of 1983. It was like some
Old Testament tale of obeying the call of God in spite of the logic that must have caused them some concern and then have God throw a veil on their
minds to shield them from the worst that God was demanding of them.
    Who would have thought that this couple of meager resources and without jobs or a home would come to Madison to found Madison Pentecostal
Assembly (MPA) that would eventually own a church complex on E. Buckeye Road worth $1 million and own 57 acres in the country for future church
growth? No one could have predicted, but God surely knew.
    The beauty of MPA is that it has been built from the ground up through the parishioners and not through outside sources where the funds could have
strings attached. And it is their blend of the spiritual and social gospel that has allowed MPA and its members to progress spiritually and financially.
One of the fundamental paths to wealth development is homeownership. And while at the beginning relatively few of MPA’s members owned their own
homes, that proportion is reversed today. Johnson had a history of working on homeownership issues when he was a graduate student at UCLA and
employed by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development before he received his spiritual calling. That experience coupled with his wife’s real estate
licensing and expertise assisted many of their members into home ownership.
    “The people we were dealing with were working people scraping together money,” Johnson observed. “We told them to get a stable job, clean up their
credit, stay on their jobs, do well on their jobs and be accountable, get promotions, save and own something. We thought the path to economic
empowerment was homeownership. We helped them shift their priorities from cars and immediate consumption to future things such as a house. So some of
our members who were working and didn’t have good saving habits, we counseled with them. And some of the other members took their money and put it in
a savings account for them to help them get that discipline. Some people really learned because at that time, home equity was growing at 8-10 percent
per year. They really became attuned to more sophisticated financial management.”
    Another area the church focused on was the self-respect of its members in terms of being African Americans in a predominantly Euro-American
community. “Early on in the church, we were aiming for that single, Black mother,” Johnson said. “I thought they were the most disadvantaged of the
Madison community and had high needs. We wanted to stem that problem of the poverty cycle. So we figured they would receive our ministry of love and
care. The other part of that was elf-esteem. Many African Americans didn’t have positive self-esteem. One of the reasons was they didn’t see prominent
Black role models in their immediate environment, not in their homes, not in their neighborhoods and certainly not in their misery. I consciously appealed
to Black people. I consciously wanted the church to be Black so that we could have a critical mass of Black people who are positive, who would say ‘We
can do things on our own. We don’t want to have to depend on White people.’ There were Whites who wanted to help us succeed. But there was too much
of a dependency mentality within the Black population and paternalism among some in the White population in terms of them thinking that Blacks can’t
succeed. It was important for Blacks to understand that we can. It was important for Whites to understand that Blacks can. We wanted Blacks to believe in
themselves. And we wanted Whites to understand that we can do things ourselves. We can make it on our own. I’m not saying that was pervasive in the
White community or the Black community. But of the people, the segment of the population we were dealing with, we were trying to get them out of that
dependency mode.”
    While some churches might begin serving the poor and then leave them behind as they begin to attract more middle and upper-income parishioners,
MPA has stayed solidly with its members even as it has attracted some new members from different cultural backgrounds. “I think I would say I’ve come
along with our parishioners,” Johnson reflected. “They grow and some of their talents and skills helped to sustain me and my family. The key thing is to help
families stabilize, giving them some hope, working with them , giving them some of those divine principles, not taking credit for God working in their hearts
and in their lives giving them happiness and joy. There is a biblical principle that helps me stay focused in terms of my leading the poor. The Bible said
‘Have I not chosen the poor who are rich in faith?’ So the poor believe in this ministry. I went to the middle class and many of them didn’t want to go a
Pentecostal route. They didn’t see a need for structural life change. But many of the poor did and that is what we were offering, a better way of life. Now
what happened was that once we got a critical mass of poor people in the church and they began to change, the more middle class people began to join
the church because they saw there was ministry opportunity. So African Americans and non African Americans began to work with the needy in the church.
The partnership was there. So now you can hardly tell who is needy and who isn’t because we are all just one big family.”
    What’s in store for the future of MPA? Well there is that 57 acres of land in Cottage Grove and the church will more than likely pay off its existing debt in
the next two years. “When the time is right and Cottage Grove develops, maybe Cottage Grove could embrace a variety of things,” Johnson said. “Maybe
there would be some senior housing. We might want to buy some more land out there. Then we could really start dreaming. But keeping its own land,
training leaders today, encouraging them to take an interest in a long-term future, an intergenerational future when I am dead at 102 years old is what I
foresee.
    Whatever the future may hold, today, while our country is still struggling with civil rights issues, MPA has overcome the silver rights issues it faced 25
years ago.
Bishop Eugene Johnson (l) and his wife
Carolyn moved to Madison 25 years ago to
found MadisonPentecostal Assembly.