People Will Come

 

By Stephen and Robin Boda

Stephen and Robin Boda planted Bridge of Hope Community (Alliance) Church in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri. Robin works full time as an education director for a local learning center. Stephen-who is full-time pastor, teacher, mentor, and outreach director- also works part-time as a janitor. 

Growing up in poverty in America can be compared to growing up in a third world country in some cases. Actually, some third world countries are safer.

We have been doing inner city ministry for nearly 18 years. Breaking the cycles of addiction, poverty, and violence takes time. Bridge of Hope was planted with a desire to develop an urban ministry plan to reach our neighbors, beginning as a small group in our living room in 2002, which we quickly outgrew.

We planted Bridge of Hope in 2003, along with Robin’s aunt and uncle, Linda and Gil Carlson, who attended an Alliance church in North Carolina. Knowing that the complicated issues of inner-city life necessitate a multifaceted ministry approach in order to nurture change, we wasted no time in reaching out to our community.

Love Your Neighbor

Serving in any way possible, we simply loved our neighbors-through kids clubs in our backyard, helping with the annual block party, as well as an open invitation to the neighborhood on Friday nights for Gil’s famous barbecue.

Gradually, people started coming to us for answers, and many joined our church. We grew out of our living room and moved into the apartment downstairs. Gil and Linda moved out of their apartment to make room for us. Finally, God provided for us to purchase a building. We began Sunday morning services in 2003.

Our goal is to connect newcomers to Jesus and His people, so we tend not to measure our success by the number of people attending on Sunday mornings.  Stephen often says that church can happen anywhere-on a park bench, while riding the bus, eating breakfast with friends, or at the building. We reach out to more than 100 people in the course of a month. Sunday morning attendance ranges from 25 to 50. 

Searching for Connection

Stephen hosts a weekly men’s breakfast at Bridge of Hope. This is one of our most well-attended outreaches. It draws 30-50 men each week; some are from other churches, but many are homeless and are searching for connection with other guys and answers for life.

Recently, a homeless man with a crack addiction accepted Jesus. He said, “Everything was fighting against me, and then I realized it was Jesus I didn’t have. I need Jesus.”

When these guys come to the Lord, they have nothing but Christ. Like the demoniac whom Jesus healed and told to go and tell others, we affirm their priesthood the moment someone receives Christ as Savior and encourage them to tell others about their newfound faith.

Bridge of Hope also partners with Job Alliance of St. Louis, which provides jobs for unemployed, including lawn care, construction, and home repairs for people cited for code violations because of broken windows or damaged roofs. The church partners with Habitat for Humanity as well and its sister organization, Rebuilding Together, to train men and women and provide them with job skills.

The homeless men who come to the breakfast and express the need for employment can borrow tools each day from the church, which provides tools to some homeless men who have handyman skills but have no tools of their own. They can borrow a nail gun, head over to a job, begin to earn some money, and return the borrowed tool before going to their shelter for the evening.

Youth on Mission

Besides the homeless outreach, Bridge of Hope offers an after school ministry to kids.  Our First Robotics team-poor, inner-city kids-took first place in research at the national competition.

Ridiculously Changed-Heather and Darnell

Heather was living in a boarding house across the street from us when she began attending the living-room meetings. She was struggling with multiple addictions and wanted help. She attended Bridge of Hope, spent a few days with our family, and watched us in action. Heather heard our dreams for the community, and God convicted her to return to Idaho to care for her son, Brenton, who was born when she was just 13. Her mother was caring for him at the time.

Darnell followed Heather to Idaho. He has his own story of selling drugs, making a lot of money, getting shot, and playing “minister” in church. Heather told Darnell that the only way they could be together was to do it God’s way. They ended up getting married and having a couple of kids up there, and then moved back to St. Louis three years ago. 

The couple, now with four children, are some of our closest friends. God has used them in more ways than we can count, but the change is “ridiculous.” During our first cell group meeting at their house a couple of years ago, they were threatening to leave each other. Heather was ready to move back to Idaho, and Darnell was ready to walk away from the marriage.

We heard the couple’s arguments and prayed. Heather and Darnell chose to work at their marriage in submission to God and are really in love. We are so proud of them. Life is hard with four kids and no job right now, but God is their Provider, and they are listening to His voice. They are living more frugally, attending classes, and using spare minutes to serve the church. Heather was the one to make sure that toy donations that came in just days before Christmas were distributed to more than 20 families! 

C&MA DNA

I am an Alliance guy. My heart beats for missions. I clearly identify with what our overseas missionaries are doing. Our church members have a passion for missions, too, and they love to give. The goal we set to raise funds for the GCF (Great Commission Fund) last year was surpassed half way through the year.

We’ve also established the Urban Ministry Institute to provide leadership training for poor people who feel called to ministry but cannot afford traditional schooling. Currently, 20 men are enrolled, with their focus on inner city ministry.

Our desire is for the institute, a preparation ground for ordination training, to be a model for the MidAmerica District and to reproduce this model in other big cities within the district. I’m spending every moment possible mentoring and training future church leaders.

It’s a challenge. As ministry grows, the financial support dwindles. When you do the math, it doesn’t work. It causes us to stay on our knees and trust the Lord, because we know He has the answer.

Simple Ministry

But sometimes the answer to ministry is simpler than budgets, meetings, and projects. Recently at our weekly breakfast, a man who was listening to some of us talk about ministry said, “Can I interrupt? I would like to pray.” Not wanting to interrupt the Holy Spirit’s work, we asked the man to continue, and he began to pray.

 “I’ve been listening, God, and these men have what I need. I have been running. I give up. I give my life to you, Jesus.”

 It was a simple, heartfelt prayer. As the man asked Jesus into his heart, I thought, We’re all so busy seeking opportunities to reach out, but when we live as we are supposed to, people will recognize the difference, and they will come.

 Learn More

If you would like more information about Bridge of Hope ministry, contact the Bodas at robinboda@gmail.com. Read about other Alliance churches implementing innovative strategies to reach their communities for Christ

What You Can Do

Pray that God will provide for the needs of U.S. Alliance workers. Give to Alliance Great Commission Ministries

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