The Dream Never Dies

Guest Article by Cory Blackwell

(Note by Kip McKean of the City of Angels International Christian Church: Cory is a very dear and long-time friend. In the 1990’s, he served the Lord as the World Sector Leader for the Middle East in the Central Leadership of the International Churches of Christ, known as the “ICOC.” He was also the “planter” of the Cross & Switchblade Ministry centered in the rough neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. This cutting-edge ministry was focused on reaching out to the poor, the fatherless, gang members, drug dealers and prostitutes. It later evolved into the South Central Region of the LA International Church of Christ. Today, let us warmly welcome this valiant brother into the City of Angels Church family!)

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revelation 2:4-5.

Cory Blackwell

Sunday October 17, 2010 – my first service at the City of Angels International Christian Church – can be summed up in one sentence: “This is the church that I was baptized in!” I was initially invited by Lu Jack Martinez two weeks earlier, and to be honest, there was a hesitation in my heart because I had heard so many negatives. Yet for the past 10 years, I have been searching for what initially drew me to become a disciple of Christ. During this time, I have attended some 40 former ICOC congregations – 13 of which splintered from the original Atlanta ICOC Church – and perhaps 50 denominational churches. However, the Spirit put on my heart to be a Berean and to “check it out” for myself. (Acts 17:11)

As I walked into the Downtown LA Sheraton early for church that fateful Sunday morning, I heard and felt “the buzz” of fellowship… And I remembered. I sat up front and everyone lifted their voices to praise God… And I remembered. The preaching was inspirational, but uncompromising of the Scriptures and everyone was taking notes… And I remembered. The baptisms at the end of service brought me to tears… And I remembered. At the last “Amen,” no one bolted for Burger King… And I remembered. I remembered my first time visiting a discipling ministry in Chicago in 1990. I remembered my “first love” so strong at baptism on November 14, 1990. And then, I remembered “the height from which [I had] fallen.”

I was raised Muslim by my mom, who has always been an upward call to me. My grandparents were a mix of Catholic and Baptist, while my father was a Jehovah’s Witness. You could say that I was kind of a “religious mutt.” Since I was baptized in the Baptist Church at 17, throughout my college years at the University of Wisconsin, into my NBA days with the Seattle Supersonics, as well as in my continued pro-ball career in Turkey and the Philippines, I was “religious.” Bill & Lisa Hamilton – who now lead the Charlotte International Christian Church – met my wife Megan, who was a model, and me. We studied the Scriptures with them as well as with John & Emma Causey and were called out of the religious world and into the simple, righteous life of a disciple. We were then baptized in a horse trough, thus humbly entering the glorious Kingdom of God!

In May of 1991, at the request of the church, I moved my family to LA. This was a very difficult decision as Chicago was my birth place, my family was there, and I had a six-figure job with a company car and all the perks. Upon our arrival in Los Angeles, we felt the same love as we had experienced in the Chicago Church. From this, I began to understand that the church of the Bible was a unified movement. In 1992, with my mentor and friend – Kip – by my side, we started the Cross & Switchblade Ministry. Later, it was renamed the South Central Region and today it is called the Metro Heights Region. At the peak of this ministry, the Spirit had increased our number to almost 1,000 disciples. Sadly today, it has dwindled to a little more than a few hundred.

Cory Blackwell is featured on an NBA Star "Rookie" card.

In 1994, my wife and I were honored to be appointed the Middle East World Sector Leaders. It was then that I understood my Muslim background. (Galatians 1:15) When we began this noble charge – which I believe was from God, there were only three churches in three countries: Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Within six years, the Middle East World Sector multiplied disciples and expanded into 21 nations, which also included: Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait and Afghanistan! During these exciting days, my entire family was baptized – most moving to me were my mother and sister. Throughout the late 90’s, I saw God deliver an ever-increasing number of souls to the thirsty waters of baptism in the Middle East. However, the price was high. We were arrested, interrogated, our Bibles and passports confiscated, and a few were killed while sharing the gospel. Our suffering and labor were never in vain, for it meant the salvation of the Middle East nations! (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In the year 2000, Megan and I chose to step away from the ministry, because of the sin in our lives. My greatest sins were selfish ambition and the neglect of my family spiritually. I was neither kind nor gentle to Megan – a great sister, who worked side-by-side with me in all of these ministries. My heart was broken as God showed me my sins against the mother of my four incredible children. In 2002, Megan and I divorced.

Over the next eight years, I “drifted” further from God and His Word. (Hebrews 2:1-3) With the destructive return of our former fellowship to Mainline Church of Christ theology at the 2002 Long Beach “Unity” Meeting (which included the dissolution of the Central Leadership of World Sector Leaders) and the ensuing “Kriete Letter” in 2003, I watched helplessly as the church I loved crumbled and the faith of so many I cared for was “shipwrecked.” (1Timothy 1:19) At this historical juncture, the ICOC was no longer “moving” geographically or numerically. Therefore, the ICOC was no longer a unified movement, but merely a fellowship of autonomous congregations, who for the most part had abandoned the once distinguishing Biblical practice of discipling. (Matthew 28:20)

However, I will be forever thankful for my brothers Steve Gooch, Bill Burke, Everett Darby and Thomas Rooks for striving to keep me faithful. Even so, sin and hopelessness began to engulf my life. Going to church was so painful because I was often treated with a disdain that I did not understand. I became a nomad wandering in a spiritual desert, whose grains of sand were churches. I longed for “the living water.” (John 4:10-15)
In 2005, I met an incredible God-fearing, loving and generous woman – Charlotte. She had three tremendous sons, whom I tried to love as my own. The Lord allowed me to baptize Charlotte in one of our former fellowship’s churches in Atlanta. However, in my zeal to be married, I failed to be honest and straight forward about my radical beliefs concerning the Kingdom of God and the “narrow road” of the true doctrine of salvation. (Matthew 7:14) Sadly because of these failings, we are now in the process of divorce. Through this heart-wrenching experience, God has taught me to never shrink back from Biblical convictions and to be completely honest and completely open. We must surrender – be “sold-out” – to God’s control. For if we attempt to take it from Him, our life will be in disarray, hurting those so dear to our hearts.

That Sunday October 17, 2010, will forever be in my memory, as with the day of my baptism! I not only saw the love that only sold-out disciples have, but I felt the very grace of God. I was fully welcomed and embraced as a hurting brother, yet this joy paled in comparison to the miracle of seeing the effect on my precious 13 year old daughter. I have rarely seen her so happy. That same day during the sharing time at the Bible Talk Leaders Meeting, she actually stood up and thanked everyone for their love and the awesome message at church! She felt so pulled-in by the campus and teen sisters.

Cory, as the World Sector Leader for the Middle East, preached in the Garden of Gethsemane just outside of the walls of Jerusalem in 1997!

A week later, I attended the Sunday Service of the Campus and Teen Retreat in Palm Springs. Chris Broom spoke and I will forever remember his statement, “There must be a distinguishable difference between God’s Church and a lost world.” In only two services, I witnessed four baptisms. I had not seen that many in the last eight years. I cried, because God had let me see His power once again.

As I consider my life over the past decade, I have come to a conviction that I did not accidentally “lose” my “first love,” but I had “forsaken” it. I lost my dreams and visions to see this world won. I lost my faith, and sin caused me to be far away from my purpose. Therefore, God took everything from me. I came to LA three months ago with nothing – not even a car. I have longed to be with and to be used by my God again. It was not until I came to the City of Angels Church that my passion for God returned, and with it, my passion to change the world!

The ultimate purpose of this open letter is to invite everyone that has ever served side-by-side with me in the Lord’s work to be a Berean and to “check out” for yourselves God’s new movement – the SoldOut Discipling Movement! Since God’s will in every generation is for “all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth,” then for me and for you, the dream never dies! Join me, as I so look forward to serving in the new South Central Region of the City of Angels Church, and if the Lord wills, the Middle East again! And to God be the glory!