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Enough to Bless Others

Loving on the neighbors in St. Louis

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“It is our great pleasure to share our lives daily with our community.”

Most suburban American Christians would agree with that statement, yet in our urban St. Louis context, people often fear even coming into our community. Why? St. Louis is one of the most dangerous cities in America. Guess what that means? Our community is filled with victims of crime, those who are overwhelmed, broken and hurting. But also it means that our neighborhood is filled with criminals.

That’s okay with my husband, Stephen, and me because Jesus, our defense, is the One with the solutions! Because we trust our Savior’s energy and power, He is moving mightily through our little church to have an impact on victims and criminals alike. We proclaim Jesus in our words and actions, teaching with wisdom so we may present everyone perfect in Christ. As Paul wrote, “To this end [we] strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in [us]” (Col. 1:29).

From its inception, Bridge of Hope Community Church (C&MA) has been all about loving its neighbors. Our church began from weekly backyard barbecues as we enjoyed good food and laughter with our neighbors. Those barbecues developed into small groups, which grew into church services in our home. Then we were able to purchase a small, 12,000-square-foot former school building. We use nearly every square inch of that building and the lot across the street to “love on” our neighbors. Many think of our church as a community center.

Early on, Bridge of Hope’s motto was “take enough to bless your family and take some to bless someone else.” Naturally, as we were sharing with our neighbors, we discovered more needs. We take Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves seriously. If we want to take a warm shower in the morning, we should want that for our neighbors. If we want our kids to be able to read . . . if we want a hot cup of coffee . . . if we want clothes and shoes in which to go to a job interview . . . if we want tools to complete our work . . . if we want a garden in which to grow healthy food . . . if we want bikes to ride for transportation . . . if we want to wear clean clothes—then we are to want those things for our neighbors.

Bridge of Hope has a shower, laundry facilities, a tool library, multiple community gardens, a “hang-out” room, a clothing boutique, free breakfast on Thursdays and a full-service supplemental education program. Of course, we also have Bible studies, worship services and discipleship activities, but most of our discipleship happens while gardening, helping a neighbor pick out clothes, doing laundry or teaching someone to read.

Hope Education was added in 2011 through a generous grant from the MidAmerica District of the C&MA. Hope Education works with students from four to eighty-four on all things academic, providing GED classes in the mornings, adult literacy and high school test preparation in the early afternoons and afterschool tutoring later in the day.

Hope Education helps students discover their potential through personalized instruction. Whether students are working on improving reading skills or studying for the GED, Hope Education’s teachers and volunteers offer the right blend of encouragement and instruction to help students reach their academic goals. Partnering with members of Bridge of Hope Community Church allows us to have an additional layer of support to meet the needs of the whole family.

Hope Education’s guiding principles—“God made me unique. I have strengths. I have weaknesses. I have something to learn. I have something to teach”—are recited daily by all. By frequently saying these truths aloud, Hope Education students are embracing their God-given identity and the staff is remembering that their role is to create an atmosphere of honor and dignity. One-on-one sessions multiply the effectiveness of instruction and the impact on students’ educational goals.

Reading is critical to lifelong success. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 70 percent of prison inmates cannot read above the fourth grade level and 85 percent of juvenile inmates are functionally illiterate.

Prison is a very real—and often expected—outcome in our neighborhood. We have witnessed firsthand the impact illiteracy has on kids’ lives; ostracized by friends and family, they feel incapable of keeping up with their peers and drop out of school. Then, in hopes of finding “easier ways” to pay the bills, they make a few wrong choices. In prison, they learn from other inmates.

Quite often the difficulty in reading is related to dyslexia, which often goes undetected. Dyslexic students have incredible abilities, but too frequently, their school experiences are negative. When students are able to understand how their brains were made and learn in a way that makes sense to them, their lives change dramatically.

Last year, 49-year-old Kenny had one desire before he reached age 50; he wanted to learn to read, something he had not accomplished even though he had graduated from the local public school. Because of his inability to read, he had started down the wrong path to make quick money and ended up in trouble with the law.

Undiagnosed dyslexia had left Kenny with little confidence and the fear that he may be asking too much of God. However, one year later, after working with Hope Education and a team of friends, Kenny is reading. Fortunately, the Lord granted Kenny mercy in the courts after a two-year process of life change. Kenny now is working full time and gets a kick out of leading the Bridge of Hope creed on Sundays.

Urban ministry is difficult, yet God has sustained us and given us His vision and purpose throughout our 20-year journey. In many ways urban ministry resembles life in war-torn countries and impoverished areas—brokenness abounds.

Darnell and Heather Loyd recently moved back to St. Louis to work with Bridge of Hope, while Darnell is pursuing licensing with The Alliance. We first met Heather 10 years ago when she was living across the street from us and recovering from heroin addiction. She came to Jesus, and she and Darnell were married. They have six kids and are a huge asset to our ministry.

Recently, Heather called from Home Depot, where she was picking up supplies for work they were doing on their house. “Robin, I now know that renovating a house is like us coming to Christ. At first, we start working on the outside and get things looking okay to onlookers. Then, we start doing the hard work of tearing out the walls and find that there is more junk under the surface than we ever realized.”

Making beauty in the midst of brokenness is God’s blessing to us! Because we have been blessed, we bless others. Because we have been forgiven, we forgive. Because we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, we don’t shy away from hard conversations. We do a lot of praying, a lot of resource gathering, a lot of counseling—and a lot of reminding each other of our Father’s great love and His mercies, which are new every day!

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