The Robersons: Putting Heart and Soul in Detroit

By Allison Hurtado

Cornelius Roberson wanted to be a Catholic priest, until he shared his chosen career path with his father, who hit him with the news: You are Baptist. Roberson and his wife Marisa laugh about it now from their Detroit home. But a calling is a calling, Marisa says.

The Robersons are Detroit natives. They grew up riding their bikes down the streets and attending church. Cornelius’ mother was friends with Marisa’s and her family at a Converge church plant. By way of a church event, Marisa and Cornelius met at a Detroit Tigers game. They have been together since that day in August 1996. Although they both work full time in healthcare, Cornelius as a clinical therapist and Marisa in human resources, ministry has been a major part of their lives.

Booted from the nest
They grew the children’s ministries at a previous church from three kids to a ministry that reached up to 45-60 youth. The multiethnic congregation was a passion of theirs. The relationships they developed there are still part of their lives. One of the kids from their ministry recently invited them to his high
school graduation.

“The application of the gospel is most important for me to see,” Cornelius said. “To see men and women walk with Christ daily and see individuals overcome problems in their lives. We had a lot of freedom to minister, develop, teach and do outreach.”

Cornelius says they never would have left, but one Sunday, from the pulpit, the lead pastor informed the congregation to express their good-byes. The Robersons were leaving the church.

“We were confused and all were shocked. We were shocked,” Cornelius said.

“When we were leaving, and people were crying, we comforted them,” Marisa said. “We were broken. We just continued to minister to each other and had church in our home. We had a blessed time. Time to heal. That’s when Cornelius was petitioned to start a church.”

The question that shaped a ministry
Detroit has over 4000 churches. Planting a new one didn’t seem to be a viable next step, until meeting with another couple who brought a different perspective to the table. Over lunch, they asked the Robersons a question: “Are the many churches truly preaching and teaching God’s Word? Is God’s Word going forth?”

“We recognize our city now looks like a bomb field,” Marisa said. “When we grew up here, the community was together and people looked out for one another. Many families went to church on Sunday mornings.  Now it’s disjointed. Our Lord can breathe life into our community. I partner with my husband’s vision to reach the lost, revive the faint and restore the fallen.”

They asked the Lord to direct their steps. Approved unanimously at a Church Planting Assessment Center, they immediately went to work. To heal from their previous experience, they began a home Bible study. It became a community Bible study that grew and grew until their home could no longer hold all
the participants.

“At the time I was also finishing up my master’s degree at Moody Theological Seminary in Michigan,” Cornelius said. “Then all of sudden everything came together like Legos. I knew we were supposed
to plant.”

A deal arranged by God
Finding a location within a highly churched city can be difficult. After lots of prayer about their situation, Cornelius suggested they pick one square mile to focus on. They drew a line on a map and set a goal. Marisa’s former elementary school happened to be in the square mile they chose. The Burns Elementary School principal cut them a deal Marisa says could have only come from God: A 6000-square-foot room for just $250 a month.

They launched services for Heart and Soul Community Church on September 20, 2014, and nearly 100 people attended the launch. During the preview services the Roberson’s realized the unique needs of their hometown. Serving continental breakfast became part of service. Marisa noticed children would take food with them. They have decided food and fellowship will always be part of church.

“We also do a time of testimony so people can share what the Lord is doing in their lives. We do prayer requests and following service, we share a meal. We’ve done meatballs, chicken wings and once we did a movie day with hot dogs and nachos,” Marisa said.

Making an impact
Last summer, Heart and Soul held their first community picnic and a baptism in the lake.

“If they can swim in the lake, they can get baptized in the lake,” Cornelius said. “Many confessed Christ as Savior and four were baptized. We also requested the church where we met join us in our picnic. We came together and it was a glorious God-sent day.”

While the Robersons’ next steps in ministry are solid, and the church is well on its way, they are learning the issues in their ministry square mile. Cohabitation, unwed pregnancies and domestic violence are just a few of the problems for which they are counseling people.

“Part of the downfall of the churches right now is that we don’t speak out against these things,” Cornelius said. “A lot of churches aren’t really dealing with the structure of the family. My wife and I are passionate about this. These are issues we are going to address.”

Heart and Soul is just getting started. The Robersons appreciate the Converge family that is continuing to support them through their first year.

“We are not alone. We have a team behind us,” Cornelius said. “I’m excited about what our Lord has done and will do in our community at Heart and Soul. This whole time I thought God wasn’t in Detroit, and he was here all along. He was just waiting on me to stand up and walk my calling.”




Church Planting Articles, Allison Hurtado