MICAH Founding Pastor Joe Allen Games 1940–2013

Profile by Patricia Obletz, MICAH Communication Team

“If you ever feel the call to become a preacher, you know that you cannot run away from it. You can’t sleep it off, you can’t drink it off, it just stays with you until you give in to it,” Pastor Joe Allen Games said. From Smackover, Arkansas (120 miles from Little Rock), young Joe Games first felt the call at age 17. By the time he was 24, that spiritual desire became need. By the time he was 29, he was pastor of his own Providence Baptist Church, and “probably the youngest Baptist preacher in the community.” As his congregation grew, the church moved out of the living room into a basement, then to a storefront at 3267 N. Green Bay Avenue, and then to 2429 W. Hampton. Today, Providence Baptist Church is at 3862 N. 82nd Street; 30 ministries meet within the rich wood interior of this handsome house of worship: http://providencebaptistchurchmke.org/

Born in 1940, Games was 11 when he and his oldest brother, who were close friends and sports players, joined the Sweet Home Baptist Church in Smackover. First, the pastor said, the brothers had to say why they wanted to join the church. Young Joe Games said, “I believe the Lord has pardoned me for my sins and I want to be in the church.” The pastor said that Games was “something special, because he said he wants to be in the church, not just belong to the church.”

Games’ family was so poor, that he didn’t want to add stress by letting them know that he wanted to go to college. Although the 1920s oil boom in Arkansas added plenty of jobs at new oil refineries, and made landowners very rich --- only “If the white people in power didn’t take your land, or your oil rights,” Games said. “My family of course was one of those who lost the oil rights. The white people got away with this because they’d come in and buy ‘the mineral rights.’ We, like other landowners, couldn’t read, and didn’t know anything about the fine print of contracts. They sent us checks for six or seven cents.”

Games said he “was finishing high school in 1957 when they started integrating the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. White people got really angry about this. I remember this white guy standing across the street from the white school in Smackover; he threatened to shoot me if I set foot on the steps of that school.” He said that he “was taught as a young man to avoid getting involved with white folks, because ‘you’ll get yourself hung.’ So I wasn’t involved with Dr. Martin Luther King and his work. No one had explained to me what he was doing. I thought he was a crazy man who would get himself killed. I didn’t realize his worth until after he was gone.”

Games’ family was so poor, that he didn’t want to add stress by letting them know that he wanted to go to college. Instead, Games went to live with his grandparents in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where “people made big money.” He was 19 and the year was 1959. He got a job at the Grey Iron Foundry, and joined St. Mary’s Baptist Church. The following year, he married Gloria L. Humphrey and they moved into their own home. Today, they have two sons, one daughter in law, and six grandchildren.

Being “in the church”

At St. Mary’s Baptist Church, Games served on the Usher Board until he accepted his calling to preach the Word of God. He announced this news to his pastor and to his family on Mother’s Day in May 1962. “In our faith,” he told me, “the way we preach can’t be taught in school. We believe that when God calls you, God qualifies you to preach. The congregation judges your first sermon on whether or not God really qualified you. Once confirmed by the congregation, preachers then can attend theological seminary.” When Games preached his first sermon, the congregation welcomed him into the church as an Associate Minister. In addition to giving sermons, he taught Sunday School and Bible class; he became president of the Usher Board. This promotion launched his life as a leader and this ability helped him with his ministry. His grandmother always said she knew when he was five or six that he would be a preacher, because he didn’t act like the other kids. “Her daddy was a preacher and I must have reminded her of him,” Games said.

Knowing the importance of education, Games became one of the first graduates of Milwaukee Institute of Technology. He received a degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee while his wife got her degree in business administration at Cardinal Stritch University. Games also earned Certificates from the American Baptist College and the McKinley Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.

In 1969, with 17 members, Games became the Pastor of a new congregation, and they founded Providence Baptist Church. He wanted to work for God as a volunteer and so kept his job. He said that in his faith, “if God is in it, God will make the way.” The first stand-alone Providence Baptist Church was in a shoe store, which they renovated. The congregation agreed to buy the building for $13,000, and pay the seller over eight years; they paid off that loan in four. In 1978, the city paid them for the building and the move, which gave the church a chance to move into 2429 W. Hampton. They raised $100,000 to buy this church, a feat that made the local news. That’s when Games left his job at the foundry and gave himself to God full-time.

Providence Baptist Church still owns the Hampton building, but to accommodate its growing congregation, the church moved to 3862 N. 82nd Street. At this location, Providence Baptist Church is home to 30 ministries, including tutorial programs in math and computer skills for children who are having trouble in school.

Founding MICAH, and a Way to Social Justice

In 1988, the Arch Diocese had food pantries to help feed inner city residents, but they wanted people to learn how to take care of themselves. They hired Cheryl Spivey-Perry as their community organizer. She showed up at Games’ office one day and said she needed help to start MICAH, Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope. He said no to her at first, because, he told me, growing up in the south had taught him that there was no way to change things. Cheryl Spivey-Perry convinced him that non-violent movements for social justice have changed the hearts and minds of people. Otherwise the Civil Rights Act never would have passed. She also said that MICAH needed Providence Baptist Church.

Games was glad he agreed. At MICAH meetings, he met pastors from churches near his, all of whom wanted to improve life for their parishioners. Games took the Gamaliel Foundation community organizing training twice. He was president of MICAH from 1993 to ’95.

Although Games had gotten involved in social justice when something bad happened in the community, it wasn’t an ongoing effort for him until he joined MICAH. For the first time in his life, he began facing the powers that be, mainly white men, to lobby for just treatment. A lot like Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. did when Games was young and everyone he knew avoided white people to avoid getting lynched.

He was one of the MICAH leaders who spent the night in the Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament’s office to get treatment-instead-of-prison dollars back into the budget. The next morning, the county put the money back in, Games said, because they didn’t want people to see a bunch of pastors sleeping in Ament’s office. Another notable memory with MICAH was the time he joined other leaders to lobby the banks for $500 million to help people buy houses.

Games has received numerous honors and awards in recognition of his strong, civic-minded spiritual leadership.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster. Based on work by patricia obletz.  Page last modified on September 09, 2016

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