Houston’s Fifth Ward is known for its violent past.
In 1979, Texas Monthly called it “Texas’ toughest, proudest, baddest ghetto.”
But 60 years ago, God called a young pastor, Roy Lee Kossie, to bring the gospel to this hell on earth, a place locals referred to as “Blood Alley” for its many killings.
In 1966, Kossie, then 33, planted a church on Lyons Avenue.
“The Lord spoke to me and said ‘Son, this is where I want the church. Right here in the face of this kind of environment,'” Kossie said.
Within a few years, he and his wife scraped together enough to buy the old movie theater where they were holding church meetings. It was one of two theaters in city where blacks were allowed prior to the civil rights movement. They named it the Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center and offered the “full gospel,” Pentecostal style.
Bishop Kossie remains a fixture there, leading revivals, baptizing converts, marrying young couples and training up other pastors. When other churches moved out to the suburbs to follow their members, Kossie and his late wife, Barbara, refused to budge, earning him the nickname “The Lion of Lyons Avenue” by his peers in the Houston Christian community.
“When we moved in to this area, it was considered the highest crime rate area in the city of Houston,” Kossie said. “People shot first and asked questions later. But we loved these people. We loved this community. We knew this was exactly where we needed to be.”
In the same area a few years after Kossie founded his church, pastor Quinton Smith was called to lead the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.
After decades of serving, the churches helped transform the Fifth Ward. The Latter Day church used to be flanked by the “Black Cat” nightclub and Brisco’s honky-tonk. Today, those establishments are replaced by a church-run food pantry and youth-ministry center.
The churches conduct outreach to drug addicts, alcoholics and gang members.
City sees dollar signs in urban ‘redevelopment’
As the reputation of the Fifth Ward slowly improved, so did its property values.
Downtown Houston started expanding into the ward, and developers started eying the aging mom-and-pop businesses and, yes, even the churches.
The city began an aggressive urban redevelopment plan, bulldozing older housing, shops and other establishments to make way for glitzy, more profitable, more taxable developments. The city is now targeting the two historic black churches.
The city tried to purchase the churches’ land in the past. Each time, pastors Kossie and Smith refused.
Watch the 4-minute mini-documentary on the struggle of two black churches to keep their ministries in Houston’s Fifth Ward:
Now, the city, working through the Houston Housing Authority, is threatening to use its powers of eminent domain to bulldoze the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and take some of the property of the Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center.
Area residents and friends formed the Fifth Ward Legal Defense Fund on March 25 to offer legal aid and support to Fifth Ward residents, businesses and churches whose properties are targeted for acquisition through eminent domain.
Kossie says he has often repeated to his congregation that the Lord told him “not to let anyone melt or pour you out of the Fifth Ward” because the area was going to be revitalized and revived.
‘These churches are not for sale’
On Aug. 4, Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of the churches against the city of Houston, alleging that the Housing Authority’s threat to take their land is a violation of Texas’ religious freedom law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Lawyers for the institute note that the city’s actions would force the churches out of the community they have served for more than half a century.
“They’ve held the neighborhood together through a lot of hard times,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s deputy chief counsel. “It’s tragic that the city of Houston wants to take the churches’ property away and give it to someone else, just so they can make money. The government cannot take a church’s property and give it to some other business in violation of the law. These churches, their congregations, and this neighborhood are not for sale.”
Smith, who has pastored the Christian Fellowship church for 39 years, says, “We’ve watched the children grow up. We’ve been a safe place for them when things are bad at home. If the city makes us leave the Fifth Ward, what will happen to the children? We just want the city to leave us alone so we can keep helping these kids.”
This is not the first time churches in Houston have come under attack from Houston’s hard-left mayor and the authorities under her purview. The openly lesbian Mayor Annise Parker subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors last year when they began a petition drive to overturn or bring to a public vote the transgender ordinance that Parker helped ram through the city council.
As WND reported earlier this week, those five pastors are now suing Parker and the city alleging civil rights violations under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Housing Authority says it operates independently of the mayor and that she has no control over its day-to-day operations. She does, however, appoint all of its members.
No plans to leave 5th Ward
Bishop Kossie says he has no plans to leave.
“This is our home,” he said. “This is where the Lord called us to serve, and this is where we want to stay. We aren’t giving up without a fight.
“One of the tracts of land, we got it legally, we paid for it. We just don’t feel good about the state coming in and saying ‘We want it now.'”
Kossie has many stories of lives transformed at the Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center. He’s prayed with winos, addicts and gangsters.
He tells of one young Black Panther who came to the church, became interested in Christianity and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. His name was Jimmy Holley. He would later become a police officer.
“Drugs became such an important part of my life. From the age of, I’d say, 18 to 25 when I got saved here, I never saw a sober day,” Holley said. “But after Jesus transformed my life, within a year’s time, I had a job working with a badge.”
He also notes that, since the founding of the church, violence in the Fifth Ward has decreased, alcoholism declined, marriages have been saved and children thrive.
He attributes this to the blessing of God and to the faithfulness of the church leaders, who have reached out to the community for decades with love, patience and faith.
Kossie often tells another story of how he became impatient in the early days, asking the Lord why it was taking so long for the church to grow.
He says God’s answer to his question went something like this: “Son, the problem is that you want to tell your story. You can’t tell your story. I’m telling mine!”
Now that the story has unfolded, Kossie isn’t about to let Houston’s mayor and council steal it, co-opt it or claim it as their newest trophy property for a wealthy developer.
NOTE: The headline to this story was corrected to reflect that only one of the two churches was the city interested in bulldozing, and a paragraph was added to reflect the Houston Housing Authority’s contention that it operates independently of the mayor.