LIBERTY CITY – As the joyful sound of worship music fills the small church building, the worshipers at the Liberty City Church of Christ rejoice in praise and laughter as they have for 75 years.
These church members come every Sunday to give thanks to God and to give back to a community desperately needing a loving hand. The church stands as a bright beacon of hope, faith and love in a community rich in culture and diversity, but lacking in opportunity.
“I truly love how this church explains the word of God to us step by step and how this church truly loves helping the needy of this community,” said Catherine Daniels, 50, of Miami Gardens.
The community Daniels speaks of is Liberty City which is a heavily African -American populated area originally developed in the 1930s. Its boundaries have been disputed by many, but it roughly runs from NW 79th Street to the north, NW 27th Avenue to the west, NW 54th Street to the south, and I-95 to the east. The image of Liberty City is that it is an area full of crime, crack and poverty, but church members such as Daniels envisions the area as a place that just needs more love and care.
Upon entering the church, Daniels enjoys standing in the reception area on any given Sunday morning ready to give anyone a hug and a smile. “What drew me to this church when I started to attend back in 1994 were the people and the love they showed me,” said Daniels.
The love that she received is what this small community church tries to give the people of Liberty City. The Liberty City Church of Christ has been a staple of this community since it opened its doors back in 1938.
The church was started by a few church members who attended the 12th Street Church of Christ in Overtown because they lived in the Liberty City area. It currently stands at 1263 NW 67th St., with about 200 people who attend the Sunday morning service and between 40 and 60 people who attend the evening service. The pews are made of wood and there are three wooden columns that stretch across the ceiling from side to side that holds up the roof of the building.
The church’s goal is to save souls, but it is mostly known throughout the community as a church that cares to provide to those in need.
The church has teamed up with Feeding South Florida to give out food to the community as part of its feeding program on every fourth Saturday of each month.
“This church is very well organized when they give out the food so it is a credit to them,” said Brad Tucker, 49, who works for Feeding South Florida.
“My kids have come to this church a few times and I think what this church does by helping give out food to the community is great, especially for someone such as me who has nine people to feed, “ said Simone Wilson, 32, who is a community member and receives the bag of food the church gives out.
The church is lead by Pastor Freeman T. Wyche, 83, who has been the head pastor for 35 years. A former Air Force hospital administrator and air traffic controller, Pastor Wyche brought with him a vision of service to the community.
“We exist to save people and we can’t bring the word of God to people who are hungry and starving so we are here to serve mankind’s physical needs first and then their spiritual needs,” said Wyche. His vision led the church to start community programs emphasizing on helping the needy in all areas.
“We started the food bank feeding program, a vacation bible school program, a program dealing with marriage and family counseling,” said Wyche. “We also began a program for helping grandparents who raise their grandchildren and a substance abuse and healthcare ministry program with the help of the congregation.”
It takes money to put those ideas to work. Despite the tough economy, the church can implement many of its programs because members are able to contribute financially to help the pastor fulfill his vision of service to the community. “Our church has lots of people that are now professionals that want to give back to this community by helping to serve people,” said Kermit Wyche, 47, an administrator at Jackson Hospital and the pastor’s son.
There is also Davie Madison, 68, who is a retired Miami Police captain. He has been at the church for more than 30 years and is the pastor’s right-hand man.
“The demographics of this area used to be blacks, but now there are more Hispanics that have moved into the area which I believe makes this community more welcoming” said Madison.
Though more Hispanics have moved into the area, the needs of the people have not changed.
Another prominent member of the church is Clifford Thomas, 55, a hospital administrator who serves on the executive board of the 100 Black Men of South Florida, an organization that mentors young African-American boys up through high school.
“Though many people move out of this area, the people who move in are also economically challenged,” said Thomas. Along with the church, the 100 Black Men of South Florida have worked together to give out food during Thanksgiving and to give out gifts during Christmas. “The hope is to work with the church to help build a better community,” said Thomas.
Several years ago the church purchased land at Northwest 83rd Street and 17th Avenue. The leadership wanted to build a bigger church, but once the economy took a turn for the worst they had to put those plans on hold.
“Though we would be leaving the area we will still be very active in this area because we are ingrained in Liberty City,” said Wyche. The belief is the church will be able to help out more people in different areas without forgetting or neglecting Liberty City.
“Our foothold is in Liberty City so I do not believe by possibly moving from this area that our commitment to this area will change,” said Thomas.
Although the address of the church might change one day, the pastor doesn’t plan to move from the house he lives in next to the church.
“Living in this community might not mean much to the people that live here, but it does mean a lot to me because I know the leadership here is willing to get their hands dirty,” said Wyche.