BYRON -- Dexter Cornelius of the Vine of New Life Worship Center has a vision for the church he pastors.
“The church really started with a vision I had one night,” he said. “In it, I was standing beside Noah and the ark and Noah asked me, ‘What do you see with your natural eyes?’ I said animals going into a ship. He asked me three times then asked, ‘What do you see with your spiritual eyes?’ I said animals going into an ark of safety representing people of all different races and tongues and nationalities. He told me, ‘Well said, man of God. This is the calling your heavenly father has given you.’ I knew I was to start a church for his people despite race, age, economic position or any such thing.”
Cornelius said the vision came in a dream five years ago. The Vine of New Life Worship Center is almost two years old now.
“Before we started the church, I helped other pastors,” he said. “I served as assistant pastor in churches in Macon and Fort Valley. Then the vision came to me again. This time I told my wife, Belinda, and our kids that it was time to step out in faith.”
Cornelius said that was in December 2012, and the fellowship began February 2013.
“We wrote down the vision and our needs,” he said. “Things like getting a place, at least 50 chairs, a PA, a lectern, things like that even though we didn’t have the money. Two weeks later I got a check in the mail from a doctor in Texas who was asking if I’d started the church yet. Two weeks after that, 50 chairs were donated. We never asked others, but money started coming in. In two years, we’ve never missed a month’s rent and have stood by our commitment not to prostitute the people -- not to hassle them for money or to make money the most important thing. We decided to do what’s right and God has blessed.”
What is the most important thing?
“The number one thing is leading people to Christ,” Cornelius said. “Jesus, God’s word and people are the most important things. Love is right up there, too. I tell people I may not be the best spoken preacher hermeneutically, but I will love you, teach you the truth and lead you to Christ.”
Cornelius said even though visions have played a role in his life and walk with God -- even in his coming to Christ in his 30s -- he doesn’t consider them of prime importance compared to the Bible itself.
“The (vision’s) emphasis was about people and sharing the Gospel with everyone,” he said. “That’s certainly biblical and made staying focused on reaching them all the more important to me, even people that don’t look like ‘church people.’ It’s being willing to show the love of Christ in all kinds of ways to people who need it -- and everybody does.”
He said though the church is young and can’t begin many of the ministries he believes God is leading them to, he said his heart is for the hurting, particularly men.
“Men don’t tend to have as much help or ministry to turn to as women,” he said. “We’re so prideful and unwilling to open up, but there are so many of us hurting, distraught men, men who have failed and can’t seem to get back up. My heart goes out to them.”
Cornelius said it’s in part because of his own experience.
“I’ve had troubled times in my life and family situation,” he said. “I’ve been knocked down and really angry, but by God’s grace I’ve come through. It hasn’t been visions that taught me God’s faithfulness and care, it’s been what he’s brought me through. He keeps me going.”
Cornelius said his troubles include his 13-year-old son, Aqualo, being shot and killed.
“It was devastating,” he said. “Just overwhelming. Still, I know it was the peace of God that kept me. I was a very young Christian at the time but God kept me from doing a lot of things I might have done with those feelings. The day of my son’s funeral, I even went over and hugged the guy’s daddy who shot him. Some couldn’t understand why I’d do that, but it was because I knew God was holding me up and I couldn’t just keep that for myself. I couldn’t turn bitter or hateful. I wanted to give him some comfort.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Cornelius grew up in Macon where he still lives. He serves the Vine bi-vocationally and works full time as an orthopedic technician at Middle Georgia Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine in Warner Robins.
“I’m a very blessed person,” he said. “I’m blessed to work at Georgia Orthopaedic and have the encouragement they give me, I’m blessed to have my family, I’m blessed to know Jesus and to minister his love to others. I know I’m only here because somebody loved me, someone who loved me first and carried me through so many things: Jesus.”
In October, Pastor Appreciation Month, Cornelius said he discouraged his congregation from making a fuss over him.
“I told them it’s not about me,” he said. “I appreciate their love, but I told them just to go out and witness to others and to introduce as many as they could to Christ. I’d appreciate that.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.