“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:12-13, NIV).
With this verse, Rev. Ryan Peterson concluded a week-long series of devotions at the Concordia University (CUAA) Chapel in Ann Arbor, Mich. He challenged the campus community to “Be joyful in hope” and to give hope to others by sharing with those in need. Specifically on this day, the campus shared with the people who gather at Family of God, a storefront ministry in Detroit. Students, faculty, and staff came to Chapel wearing sweatshirts that they later took off their backs and dropped into bins to donate.
IN OUR BACKYARD
Tyler Cronkright, one of the catalysts of the “sweatshirt drop,” is a senior Family Life and Social Work student at CUAA. He started his practicum at Family of God in Detroit last year. In January, 2014, he was supposed to be done with the practicum, but he simply couldn’t leave. Family of God has been gradually increasing his duties, and he has been raising awareness of the needs “in our backyard,” in Detroit. He is passionate about inner city ministry and feels called to become a pastor in that setting.
CUAA encourages students to serve their communities and to be engaged in missions. Rev. Peterson says, “We realized that, besides going off on mission trips, the campus needed to focus on what’s in our immediate community.” Thus emerged the new “mission of the month” program and, in the month of September, the focus turned to Family of God.
CUAA Missions Coordinator, Kaitlyn Meister, contacted Cronkright and asked if there was anything the campus could do to help the Detroit mission. Cronkright talked with Rev. James Hill, Family of God’s Pastoral Director, and together they realized that there was a need for sweatshirts, as the weather turns chilly yet not cold enough to wear heavy coats. CUAA’s Missions leadership got together to decide how to go about the sweatshirt donation, and Rev. Peterson suggested the “taking the shirt off your back” action so that people could experience a tangible representation of “I’m giving hope to somebody.”
EVERYONE HAS A STORY
When asked about the most surprising thing he learned at Family of God, Cronkright said, “Everyone has a story, and homelessness is not just about people who made bad decisions.” He says that “there are, of course, those who did make bad decisions, but up to 3 out of 4 people who come to the church because they’re homeless are people who have simply lost everything due to a fire, a lost job,” or some other unfortunate circumstance.” “Homelessness is not always self-induced,” he concludes.
Cronkright, who says he’s 100% comfortable with inner city ministry, beautifully summarizes the essence of the mission: “Everyone has a story, and when you exchange stories, you learn about each other and you build a relationship. And when you realize it, people aren’t coming to church because of the food anymore; they are coming because of the relationships, because of God’s Word.” His favorite memory from Family of God is that of Al, an older gentleman who had a really poor track record and started coming to the church just for what he could get (food, clothes). But he kept coming, and this past March he was baptized. When asked why he wanted to be baptized, he said he wanted to be an example to his grandkids and wanted to know God in a way that he’s never known before. He also wanted to be able to give back to those who helped him so much, so now he can be found doing dishes and other small jobs at Family of God.
To learn more about Family of God, visit james215.org. Cronkright also invites: “Come and see.” That’s the best way to learn about the work they are doing and to see how you can help. He says, “We’ve taken the Gospel of John and tweaked it a little bit. We say, ‘Can anything good come out of Detroit?’ Come and see Family of God. You’ll see Christ in a very real setting.”
COME AND SEE
The CUAA campus community provided 416 articles of clothing to Family of God, and now they are challenging others to match that donation.
See Rev. Peterson’s video here: