Every year, Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana shuts its doors, cancels its services and sends its congregation out to do service projects all over the city.  This year, World Next Door sent a team of volunteer journalists from Grace’s congregation to tell some of the stories from the weekend.

This is one of those stories.

To read all of the Weekend of Service articles from 2011, click here.

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By Michael Brown

Driving into the depths of Indianapolis felt like we were going into the heart of our small world.  Each block slowly transported us to a place so different and distant from our sterile suburbia, yet teeming with life and culture.

Other volunteers constructed a welcoming awning outside while walls were prepared inside.

A place where the children who were ministered to at Jireh sports are born into a world full of questions and looming difficulties.  Where the population is abundant and growing, but relationships are scarce.  Where they are surrounded by buildings and infrastructure, but a faced with a shortage of opportunities.

While the volunteers from Grace Community Church slowly gathered into the Sports Complex, I began to realize that most of us were being confronted by more than a morning painting project.  We were being thrust into the lives and minds of those who found these gyms a sanctuary.

Jireh’s climbing wall teaches the kids to reach to new heights.

A Concrete Wilderness

Talking to some of the head volunteers and staff at Jireh, the contrast in lifestyles in the neighborhood increasingly began to invade my comfort zone.  I had been involved in an inner-city ministry in college some years ago, but somehow the harsh realities had begun to sneak from my consciousness.

Sure, there were the usual difficulties of poverty, being raised by a single parent, unreliable transportation, subpar schools, gangs, etc.  But I had not fully contemplated what relational and psychological dynamics were at work in the hearts of the kids who walked in this concrete wilderness just a few miles away.

Where did they go to feel loved, supported, and encouraged?  Who gave them a sense of hope, dreams to achieve, and faith in God?  The prospect of a hollow answer to these questions suddenly began to roll in like a dark cloud.

God's word watches over the grounds that shape the youth.

As the families from our church started to scrape away the yellowed paint from the brick walls, a group of six or so girls from the community appeared in the lobby.  They were preparing to spend their Saturday at one of about three gymnastic meets they would have that month.  Their coaches had brought them a long way since Jireh’s inception.  I learned that with the aging equipment, and mostly volunteer staff, the program had a lot of disadvantages compared to other well-sponsored gyms throughout the city.

However, as I gazed at the two verses hanging above the mats, rings, and pummel horses, I realized they had the greatest advantages of all on their side.  The verses read, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, and “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and good conscience”.

Unlimited Possibilities

This spoke volumes to some of the core principles that Jireh holds so dear.  They are not just there to serve dinner, help with homework, or to teach gymnastics, wrestling, and tae kwon do.  Their mission is to allow these kids to learn through faith and hard work; to learn that God can provide unlimited possibilities when we trust in Him.

Volunteers busily attack the corner project.

Jireh’s purpose is to build character traits like courage, perseverance, and loyalty.  And most importantly, their method is to use small teams lead by mentor coaches, who work intimately to instill these principles through encouragement and example.

The staff at this program had long come to realize that most of these kids would not go on to be professional athletes. But by God’s grace, they could walk with Him in a lifetime journey of faith and dependence.  Sports had become the vessel to present these kids with the opportunity of walking in discipleship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Sense of Awe

I started exploring the facility with a new sense of awe, imagining what it must feel like to be a young person coming into Jireh.  For a young man, the wrestling and weight room has the musty nostalgic feel of an old school boxing gym.  I could picture them feeling strong, having a place to channel their aggression in a positive way, and belonging to a purposeful group of young men rather than belonging to the streets.

Teens of Grace families join together for their brothers and sisters at Jireh.

For the girls, dancing and gymnastics provide a new way to express their inner beauty, in contrast to how the world outside is crying to exploit it.  What a haven for these kids to express their inner God-given desires in creative and healthy ways! And in an affirmative loving community!  Truly this was a place for unlocking their inner potential, and calling them into the adventure of walking with God.

I was drawn back to the gymnastics room, where the percussive sound of scrapers tearing away the old paint seemed to create a soothing echo.  That sound the youth would never get to hear, but the message the new walls would be sending would ring loud and clear.  The reminder that they were loved, and there were others who desired to make their lives brighter.

And in a strange way, the soon to be clean, blank and freshly painted walls spoke of something else.  The staff wanted to allow some of the kids who had been in trouble to decorate the new walls with graffiti art.  Where they had once vandalized the community with their spray paint cans, they could now cover this new canvas with symbols of their hope in Christ.  So we were not just painting and brightening the walls, but we were creating a fresh canvas for these youths to paint and create their own newness of life!

The wonderful families who, in serving, were blessed and became a blessing.

Opportunities

What a blessing for the families of Grace to be a part of this exciting ministry!  But the experience does not have to end with Saturday’s painting project.  There are so many ways to get involved.  They are in constant need of new coaches to participate and be trained.  There are plenty of opportunities to help the kids with their homework, or serve them dinner.  And with the tight budget that most ministries face, there is always maintenance to be kept up with, and equipment to repair or replace.

There will always be more at risk kids in need in the neighborhood, but as we finished up our work, I realized I could now ask this question again with a resounding optimism.  Where could they go to find that faith, hope, and love that seemed so barren in this asphalt desert?  The answer was clear-To the mats, weight room, and coaches at Jireh sports.

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Next Steps
    • If this resonates in your soul as a calling from God, or if you would just like more information, please look them up on the web.
    • And please, whatever you do, take the time to hear from God your own calling to do the good works He prepared for you to do since eternity began. He is waiting for you to partner with Him in working miracles in the hearts and lives of people, just like the kids at Jireh sports.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Every year, Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana shuts its doors, cancels its services and sends its congregation out to do service projects all over the city. This team of volunteer journalists from Grace’s congregation told some of the stories from the weekend.

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Comments

  1. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    November 14th, 2011 at 3:02 pm  

    Bravo, Michael! What a beautiful look at how significant a community center really is to the youth it serves–and there are so many community centers out there! I hope people who read this are inspired to look into helping at a community center in their own city.

  2. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    November 14th, 2011 at 3:26 pm  

    I love your thought that the new coat of paint is a reminder that the kids at Jireh are loved. We often think that a simple service project like that is only to touch up a place, but it actually serves to help a ministry love its people better! Nice job, Michael!

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