Story by Sherry English
The Columbia Union Conference is putting forward significant funding to help prove that mission trips don’t require church members to cross oceans or enter foreign lands. Over the past five years, the union has donated $1 million toward its Homeland Mission Initiative. These monies go back to local Seventh-day Adventist churches to fund creative ministries programs, outreach projects and mission schools—all designed to share the gospel message right outside their front doors.
Frank Bondurant, Columbia Union vice president for Ministries Development, and his team oversee the program, which enables congregations, large or small, to dream big—and do even bigger things. “Local churches want to do mission work, but they may not have the funds for it,” he adds. “This program allows local churches to partner with their conferences and receive union funding to take advantage of the expertise, guidance and direction we can offer.”
Here are five programs that received union funding in 2015—and all are proving there’s lots of work to be done in our own neighborhoods:
Simplicity Urban Outreach
Located in Allentown, Pa., Pennsylvania Conference’s Simplicity Urban Outreach program is a center of “influence with a mission school, social service projects and religious programs to address community “and family needs.
“The project is based on Christ’s method of reaching people through being caring neighbors. We are His hands, His voice and His calming presence in the neighborhood around us,” says Jeffrey McAuliffe, program director.
Outreach: Simplicity Christian Academy is just one arm of the program. It’s a small elementary school that opened this past fall with nine students; however, Simplicity leaders project more than 100 in five years.
“The school is only for non-Adventists because its purpose is to be a neighborhood mission school,” explains McAuliffe. After school, the place bustles with kids programs, such as homework help, and family services, including social service connections, job programs and Bible studies. Throughout the day, volunteers from local Adventist churches and the community visit neighbors to assess needs, provide health screenings and pray. “It helps to break down barriers when you have a neighbor with you,” says McAuliffe.
Simplicity Urban Outreach also includes Kidz Church, held each Sabbath. Church members feed the kids, teach them Bible stories and help them just have fun. More than 100 kids have come through the doors.
The program also includes Free Day for Simplicity volunteers to distribute food, clothing and toiletries. They have a host of other program offerings, including English as a Second Language and exercise classes, plus a choir.
Impact: Simplicity’s impact “has been profound,” says McAuliffe. “It has brought local Adventist churches from several conferences together to provide programs like Adventurers club.”
Some months they have more than 120 Bible studies going. On Free Day, they distribute more than 500 personal care items, leading them to connect with local organizations and companies, such as Wells Fargo, to solicit more for those they serve. And, though the mission was designed for families in a five-block radius, they are serving families across town.
Allegheny West Conference’s Latina church started as a small group several years ago. Today it is a mission with 50 members who minister throughout their Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood targeting Millennials and families. The Latina congregants work alongside the city’s Iglesia Manantial deVida and Brazilian churches, all led by Pastor David Rilo.
Outreach: “My joy is to see how the church has embraced the concept of global mission,” says Pastor Rilo. “We work side by side … to go out and plan more effective and ambitious evangelistic programs.”
The Latina church, along with the two other churches, envisioned hosting a large-scale event with music and preaching in the downtown area. This past November, they brought their dream to fruition when they hosted a gospel and theater extravaganza. Approximately 700 people attended; of them, 100 requested Bible studies or further information. “We are using music and art to draw souls,” says Rilo. “People see it isn’t just preaching; it is using all kinds of art to get the Word across.”
Members of the Latina Church gather for a photo.
Their outreach programming includes other activities, such as a youth retreat. Of the 2015 retreat’s 50 attendees, 37 were not Adventist. There is also a Youth in Action program to feed the hungry; a water and literature distribution program, and a weekly fellowship meal. Pastor Rilo says it’s more than “lunch;” it is an evangelistic tool for reaching people and making them feel welcome. The young people are now planning a 2016 walk-a-thon.
Impact: “We can measure success by the response we get with the community. We see the numbers who come to church and events, and we see growth,” says Rilo. Though they started as a small group, many new members have been baptized. In fact, says Rilo, looking at his three churches, there are 75 new members.
A storefront church located in a strip mall in Silver Spring, Md., Potomac Conference’s Arise Hispanic-American church has a mission to share God’s call to “arise and live” with those searching or who have lost their faith.
“Arise started as an option for second- and third- generation Hispanics who have left the church,” says Pastor Gamaliel Feliciano. “This group, Millennials, view the world differently. They are concerned about relationships and events happening in the community—racial and gender justice—and actively work to affect change.”
Outreach: Arise has a strong community outreach program. If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it there, say leaders. They’ve implemented programs, such as Awakening, for sharing gifts through music, art or spoken word; Arise Care, a Friday night café where hot drinks, snacks and ministry information is shared; Humans of Arise, a program that highlights members’ spiritual journey; Marriage Café, where they host “date night” for couples to nurture marriage and family; and Guys Night and Ladies Night, bringing groups together for fellowship and prayer.
Arise members also host community prayer walks; evangelism weekends and movie discussion nights; Operation Christmas Child to provide gifts for children around the world; spiritual gift classes, and remembrance programs for groups, such as those who have lost a child.
Impact: Pastor Feliciano measures impact and program growth through four areas: attendance, community influence, fellowship and increase in membership and number of baptisms. From 20 members three years ago to 95 worshippers each week, the mission is making inroads.
“And, we’re starting to develop alliances with community agencies and organizations,” says Feliciano. “They have the tools and are established; we’re using these connections to serve more people.”
Connection Community Church
Connection Community church members and friends knitted and donated 70 baby hats to the Laurel Regional Medical Center in Laurel, Md., in 2015.
The Connection Community church is a Chesapeake Conference church plant in Laurel, Md., designed to reach and reflect the community; “[It’s] not just another place for Adventists to worship,” says Pastor Steve Leddy. “We focus on impacting the many ethnic [groups] that surround our church home.” Those groups are now becoming members, with ethnicities ranging from Afro-Caribbean American, Hispanic American, Caribbean American, Caucasian and African-American.
Outreach: By using traditional outreach methods, such as mailers and door-to-door contact, as well as not-so-traditional methods, such as social media, Connection members have made inroads into their neighborhood.
One untraditional method, “kindness evangelism,” has members performing random acts of kindness. For example, twice a year, they distribute batteries for smoke detectors. “We want the community to know we’re looking out for them,” says Leddy.
This past spring, they hosted their first evangelistic campaign that yielded 10 baptisms, which continues to support the efforts of their Bible worker, Brittany Sherwin.
Leddy says 2016 will be the “year of compassion,” focusing on compassion outreach, such as hosting a banquet for single moms, hosting free car wash and yard work events, and offering to do minor house repair.
Impact: “We track impact by the number of disciples we create,” says Leddy. “Making disciples is our number-one goal.” From a core team of 18 Adventists and a few community members, they now average 50 attendees each Sabbath; about two-thirds are recently baptized members or not yet Adventist.
Maggie Del Valle and Yanet Perla, Redemption Chapel members, make pancakes for community members.
New Jersey Conference’s Redemption Chapel, a church plant in Vineland, was born out of a need to reach and reclaim members who had left the church. They targeted Millennials, second- and third-generation Latinas, and the surrounding community. Through their programming, they have created an inviting atmosphere for the public to know more about Christ.
“We’re not a ‘youth’ church,” clarifies Pastor Paul Rivero. “We need and want people of all generations to worship here. I’m finding, though, that our youth like to serve and are great at reaching others!”
Outreach: Redemption instituted a monthly community breakfast, which has provided many opportunities to reach neighbors, in particular, the homeless population. The breakfast, which is advertised via word of mouth, is always well attended. Afterward, the community is invited to stay for a seminar to learn more about God and the Redemption church.
The church also implemented a monthly visitation program, where they may worship with and provide services for local residents. This includes services for someone who may be sick and needs help doing chores, or a homebound member who can no longer attend the church. In addition, they use the facility to do a variety of activities and host gatherings for the youth from area Adventist churches.
Impact: “The small number of members are being used by God; they feel good about what they are doing,” he says. “And, I feel we’re doing more or equal to a large church. We always have former members, those disengaged for many years, coming to visit. Little things like this keep us going.” And, they continue to seek more outreach methods!