By Tim Meendering
Our church, Fourth Reformed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is 134 years old. It could have easily died of natural causes in its urban setting, but God intervened to revitalize this congregation through an intense focus on community transformation. One shoot that has emerged from this focus is New City Neighbors, a two-year-old nonprofit ministry that develops partnerships with neighbors, churches, and ministries so that a variety of community ministries will be increasingly effective, expanded, and developed.
The community garden, now in its third year, grew out of the expressed desire for opportunities to get to know the neighbors. The garden is yielding a harvest and has been amazingly effective for building relationships. One young woman whose life was increasingly spinning out of control apart from God developed a friendship with a church member who had been working on a nearby plot. The friendship led to a heart that was open to participating in worship and learning about Jesus. "Beth" will soon be baptized. All but one of Beth's neighbors on her block are now developing genuine community because of their garden plots.
New City Neighbors' Breaktime Bakery has risen to meet the needs of 12 middle school kids as they team up to manage a fully-functioning bakery throughout the summer months. The kids gain much needed confidence, self-esteem, and employment skills by participating in various aspects of the bakery's production, management, and marketing. Neighbors support the bakery by purchasing the wide variety of cheesecakes, cookies, bars, breads, and cinnamon rolls. The Breaktime ministry also provides a seven week, summer day-camp environment for elementary children where they learn essential life skills and Bible knowledge and sing, play games, and participate in weekly outings. Volunteers, in the context of love, provide daily meals, teaching, and reading assistance.
A vision for God's kingdom and gospel presence in northeast Grand Rapids is bearing fruit as Fourth Reformed welcomes 12 new members this summer, many who are new to the faith or "coming home" after wandering away from the Father. Still others join because they have seen God's transforming presence in the community and want to be employed in similar ways.
For more information about these programs, visit www.newcityneighbors.org.
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Tim Meendering is pastor of Fourth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.