When we think of missions, it is easy to focus on ministry in foreign fields. Many tend to neglect the need for missions right here in our own country and the needs that are literally right down the street or right next door. When Jesus commanded his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for orphans and widows, he didn’t place restrictions on where this ministry was to occur. This command is for everyone — anyone who follows Jesus Christ. We don’t need to go very far. We can start with our next-door neighbor.
This past summer I had the privilege of serving hundreds of children and youth in inner city Cleveland through an internship with The City Mission. The City Mission is a non-profit gospel rescue mission that desires to provide help and hope to all people through the transforming power of God’s love. This inner-city mission works incredibly hard to provide the children with a safe, fun, and loving environment and to ensure that every child who walks through the door does not leave without hearing the gospel message of Christ and offers youth and family outreach services (the department in which I worked).
Each day for 11 weeks, The City Mission ran a summer day camp for more than 250 kids who were from first grade to eighth grade, 98% of whom were African American. This ministry provided campers with breakfast and lunch, games, crafts, a Bible lesson and a two-hour intensive core group of their choice (e.g. drumline, gospel choir, praise dance, intramural sports, drama and poetry, graphic art and design, etc.).
Getting involved in urban mission work has been something I have always wanted to do. The Lord has given me a passion for the inner city and youth. Serving with The City Mission this summer only deepened that desire. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the significance of the number of the poor and homeless that this mission serves. It is very easy to lose sight of each person as an individual, but God is far beyond numbers and his desire is for all people to know him.
The first few weeks were extremely humbling. Extremely! I hated knowing about the poverty and pain that the children have to live with and the way they were growing up, but I am thankful that God chose to use me, and I know that somewhere along the way he was planting seeds in the garden of each child’s heart.
My heart would break when the children would talk about their home lives and their sense of normal. Our campus was right in the heart of things. We were surrounded by government housing projects for several blocks in Cleveland; so many of the kids came from the surrounding neighborhoods. It is not a safe area, but because of God’s provision and grace I did not have to live in fear, although I did worry about our kids walking around in the area by themselves. I loved each child as if they were my own, and I loved feeling like I had a sense of purpose and vision for how to help the people with whom I worked. God pushed me to do more than I knew I was capable of, and this experience revealed my strengths as well as many weaknesses.
One way that I saw God at work was in the life of one of the junior high girls, named Aniyah. This young lady came to camp looking angry most days. It was apparent to me that her life circumstances were blocking her from experiencing the complete freedom and joy of the Lord. As Aniyah and I got to know each other better, we became good friends. She would often follow me around at camp. Slowly through the weeks, I started to see a glimmer of change.
One thing I did with Aniyah each day was to sing the song, “I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart” to her. I would grab her hands and sing and dance until she was either laughing or joining in. To my surprise, after several days (maybe weeks) of doing this, Aniyah came running up to me one day, smiling from ear to ear, with a note that said, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy in my heart.” At that moment I realized that the message had finally clicked for her. Jesus had taken hold of her heart and was filling it up with His joy. What a blessing it was to be a part of his work in little Aniyah’s life!
It was tremendously difficult to leave these kids when the summer came to an end. Though they would suck the energy out of me, push every button, test my patience and drive me crazy, their smiles and presence would fill me right back up again with love. They would laugh and play with me, hold my hand, wrap their arms around me, ask questions, allow me to pray for them, smile, cry and let me in their lives a little more each day.
This summer’s experience was an eye opening and a heart shaping one. Through this experience I realized that with Christ there is hope! After leaving Cleveland, there is hope! I know Christ is at work, and I know he will not forget his children. I miss each of the campers every day, but I trust that the Lord will protect, provide and guide them in the way he wants them to go. More importantly I know God is loving them in every possible way he can. My experience with The City Mission completely changed my life. It is my prayer that my desire to love and serve people in the inner city would only increase as I continue, by God’s grace, to commit myself to the work of his kingdom.
Hannah is a recent graduate from Barclay College with a major in Bible and Theology. She is a member of Haviland Friends Church and is very grateful to be a part of such a rich heritage of Quakers. She is the daughter of David Williams, Professor of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation and Director of the Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership-Spiritual Formation program at Barclay College and the new General Superintendent of Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting as of July 1, 2014. Hannah’s grandfather is John Williams, former Friends pastor and Academic Dean at Friends University, and is the great granddaughter of Walter and Myrtle Williams. Her great-great grandparents, Walter and Emma Malone, were the founders of Malone University. Hannah feels extremely blessed to call all of them her family and hopes to be a blessing to others as she continues in inner city ministry.