What if faith was that easy? What if we are missionaries?
Imagine what you’d do in Des Moines if you were a missionary.
If you were a missionary, you would begin your task of bringing God’s word to people by defining who it was that you were there to serve. You would identify a people group, a city, a region, a neighborhood. In other words, you’d have some target in mind. Our mission field is our city, beginning specifically, with our neighborhood, which we define as a 42 square block radius from Zion’s building.
Next, as a missionary, you’d get to know your target audience. You’d find out what they liked, what they didn’t like, what language they spoke, where they shopped, what they ate, how they saw the world.
Third, you’d find some way of serving those whom you’d come to minister to. What are the needs of your target audience? Do they need food? Clothing? Shelter? Education? As a missionary you would find some way of making yourself useful to the people you sought to serve.
Then, you’d invite them into a relationship with Jesus and you’d build a church with them.
Our current evangelism work in our neighborhood began in June, 2010, at the Douglas Terrace Apartments (DTA) as a response to God’s prompting in prayer that “when you give a banquet, invite those who cannot return your invitation.” (Luke 14).
We simply showed up with a large lunch, a bunch of our members, and games for the kids. We started meeting parents and kids and forming relationships. Since June, 2010, we have done five additional outreaches to DTA.
About 50 Zion members have participated in one or more of the outreaches. The average outreach feeds lunch for around 125 people. We discovered that many of the families at Douglas Terrace were refugees from different places around the world. The parents of the kids we met spoke little English.
Whiz Kidz Tutoring, Freedom for Youth Ministries
Zion became the first church based Whiz Kidz tutoring site for Freedom for Youth in the spring of 2010. We started with four kids and two or three volunteers. By September, 2010, it became apparent that one way we could serve the kids we were meeting in our outreaches to Douglas Terrace, was to offer them the opportunity to join us on Wednesday nights at church for a meal, a Bible lesson and English reading tutoring. We began inviting the children and are amazed at the results. The program began to grow rapidly, and now there are 10-17 tutors on an average night and between 30 and 40 kids participating on average. There seems to be unlimited demand to come to Zion on Wednesday nights from the kids. Our current challenge is how to transport the growing number. We are borrowing a van from Freedom for Youth and also use 2-3 other vehicles. We are now at the point of needing to make two trips just to get everyone to church.
Our involvement with the kids from Douglas Terrace led us to the elementary school which many of them attend, Samuelson Elementary. In meeting with the principal, it was discovered that the student body is made up of 30% ELL (English Language Learner) students. Most of those students come from Douglas Terrace and other complexes in close proximity to DTA. We also learned that the school’s number one concern was transportation for these kids, mostly from refugee families, to and from school. The kids live in an area that is only 3/10 of a mile short of the busing boundary. Most live 1.7 miles from school and their parents leave early in the morning and they are frequently at school very early and have to wait outside, some, for up to an hour.
So, after much prayer, it was determined that Zion would attempt to get as many kids as possible to and from school each day. Since December 1, using vans borrowed from Meredith Drive Reformed and Freedom for Youth, we have been transporting 14 kids to and from school each school day. We have been asked by community leaders in the DTA and other complexes to try and get more kids into the program. Samuelson provides the students, the permission slips, and contacts the families. It’s a beautiful relationship. Our prayer is to be able to buy a van for Zion for this purpose and also to continue to find other churches willing to contribute drivers or vans.
Helping Refugee Families
During this time, Zion was approached by a local restaurant owner who is himself a recent immigrant from Iraq. He sought Zion’s help in providing furniture and clothing for recently arrived Iraqi families. Since November, 2010, we have helped six Iraqi families, a family from Bangladesh and the number of families is continuing to grow weekly. The congregation has provided furniture and clothing and we have also sought help from other churches in order to meet the need.
One Church, Many Tribes
Just before Christmas, 2010, we were approached by a new group of refugees from Myanmar (Bangladesh). They are part of an ethnic group called the Chin. They formed a Christian fellowship and are seeking our help in becoming a church as either a part of Zion or independently with Zion’s help. They hope to begin holding services at Zion on Sunday afternoons in the very near future. We plan to worship together frequently.
It is our belief that worship at Zion will begin to resemble, more and more, the kingdom of God as we worship together red and yellow, black and white.
What Does The Future Look Like?
Let’s be clear: God is in control and we are definitely not. Amazing things have been happening and we will continue to try and respond faithfully to what we believe is a move of God. We also understand that having a holy ambition is a good thing. So, here are some of the things we think might happen (but only if God wants them):
Buy a used van and start inviting the kids from local apartments to Sunday School as well as Wednesday nights. The van would also be used in the busing program Mon-Fri and on Weds nights. Also for special events, like VBS.
Working in conjunction with the International House of Prayer - Iowa, at 2719 Douglas, we’re praying about opening a small clothes closet/furniture distribution location beneath the house of prayer. The cost for an offsite location close to the apartments is about $200/month.
In the spring and summer continue our outreaches to DTA and also at least one new outreach at a another apartment complex nearby. We need volunteers and minimal funding for the food we’d bring. We are planning at least one outreach in conjunction with Wonder Years Academy, a local head start child care center.
At least one new commercial grade bounce house.
We’d like to do at least one Vacation Bible School outreach at our sister congregation, Redeemer Lutheran on University.
A new opportunity: Help transport the parents of the kids we have been ministering to ESL classes.
Working with International House of Prayer-Iowa (IHOP-Iowa), could we cook breakfast for the kids who live in the DTA area before school, then we give the kids a short Bible lesson and prayer before they got on a van to school?
Volunteering at the VA. Our Christmas Caroling at the VA was more successful than we imagined. We’d like to continue to develop our relationship with the VA and are currently seeking volunteers to minister to our veterans.
Thank you for your financial and prayer support and your generosity with time.
Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ