by Lisa Marshall, Director of Urban Ministries, Akron Campus
On Saturday, December 13, approximately 140 children and their caregivers arrived at The Chapel’s Akron Campus for the Angel Tree Christmas party. Do you remember the trees that were set up with names of children on them that had items that they wished for? Those fun gifts were purchased by many of you on behalf of a mother or father incarcerated in an Ohio state prison. For many of these children, these will be the only two gifts they receive for Christmas this year. But there is more to this story than just some presents under a tree. These gifts help restore families and hopefully bring children and adults to a Savior that loves them more than they have ever imagined.
In Summit County alone, there are over 1,000 children and teens that have a parent (or in some cases both parents) in prison. That means a relative or special caregiver must take care of a child or a group of children while their parent serves a 2 year, 5 year or even a 20 year sentence. This creates many questions for children that shouldn’t have to deal with these life lessons at such a young age. When an inmate requests gifts for their children, they build a much needed connection with their child to let their child know that they are thinking about them. This helps the inmate as well who may be so far away from his children that visitations are impossible.
A gift is just the beginning for these families. Inmates attend Bible studies and meet with chaplains about a relationship with Jesus Christ. When children attend the Angel Tree Christmas party they hear the gospel and receive a Bible. The most important relationship of their lives is introduced to them some times for the first time. Hope is presented to them as a gift sent over 2,000 years ago lying in a manger.
As I challenged volunteers that morning and then later to the crowd gathered to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. It is a loving Savior who draws us like a shepherd to follow Him. Doing actions in the name of Christ such as holding a baby or playing a game with the families at the table. The 30+ volunteers that showed up at the party were also changed as they saw families come together for this special morning. All were changed. I was changed. God does that when we let Him.
Such an easy word to say—breathe, but such a hard thing to actually do when you are a parent of a special needs child. Raising a child with special needs can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining and very rarely do you get any time off or away. That’s where the church steps in to help!
On Friday November 14, the Green campus hosted a Breathe event for 16 families, 35 children (17 of which had special needs) for three hours, while giving mom and dad a small break.
One of our nonverbal special guests decided she wanted to sing with the puppets and got a microphone to sing along to the songs. Talk about making your heart smile!
Fun was had not only by the children but the 45+ volunteers who graciously gave up their evening to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Everyone was entertained that night starting with an amazing puppet show that shared the gospel of Jesus by using great songs and highly energized puppets. Then, it was a rotation of events: musical therapy, ice cream sundae building, and a special treat—horse-drawn carriage rides for the children. The night wrapped up with the movie Frozen, which everyone sang along to (“Do you want to build a snowman?”).
What an amazing way to let these families know we care about them, and that the church welcomes all differently-abled bodies. These events bless the families and those that volunteer as well.
A Step of Faith
by Lisa Marshall, Urban Ministries Director, Akron Campus
The ladies came in with their preschoolers and babies, ready for food, fellowship and Bible study but they weren’t coming to church.They were coming to the Mom’s Club that meets on Wednesdays at 1:00pm in Leggett School’s cafeteria.
Each week, approximately 12 women whose children attend or have attended Leggett school bring their small children to meet with women from The Chapel who want to build relationships and share the gospel with them. The weekly small group participates in recipe-sharing, crafts, parenting, Bible lessons, and encouragement–all while sharing some food together. The children have their own activities and look forward to belonging to a place just for them.
This week one of the moms approached me before group started and said that her fifth grade daughter, who is in The Chapel’s after-school Bible Club, wants to get baptized. She shared this with me because she was conflicted about her own belief in God and had a lot of questions that she needed answered. I reassured her that this was exactly what we were going to talk about in club today. In fact, the women from the church had been praying that God would send the ladies who needed to hear this message today. She started to cry because she told me that she wasn’t going to come today because she only had enough gas to make one trip to the school and she made the choice to come to Mom’s Club.
I hesitate for just a moment with my hand on the doorknob before entering the exam room of my next patient, Martha, a 6-year-old first grader complaining of a fever and right-sided earache. She is the eldest of two children brought to the office by her twenty-year-old single mom. Things are tight financially for mom who is on welfare and who borrowed grandma’s car to bring Martha in for this illness. Fortunately Martha is covered by Medicaid, which allows her to obtain her health care in offices like mine whenever needed. My hesitation occurs as I reflect back on several similar aged children I saw one week ago in an urban school in Northwest India during a trip to serve the Dalit people, also known as the “Untouchables”.
As I enter the room I note the air-conditioned room, which is neat and clean. Martha is dressed in worn but clean clothes, as is her mother. She sits with her mom, tears in her eyes as she holds her right ear. I glance at the growth chart, which shows that in spite of hard financial times, Martha’s weight places her at the 90th percentile for kids her age compared with her 55th percentile height. It looks like this visit will need to include a discussion about restricting calories in her diet also.
by Nancy Ware and Olivia Noland
Traditionally we look at the Great Commission as an opportunity to serve over there. We want to challenge you to think of here. God has graciously placed us in the twenty-first century, bringing the world to our doorstep. With this comes the opportunity to serve internationals (in our case refugees).
Nancy: There are approximately 3,000 refugees from Southeast Asia living in the Akron area. The key is developing relationships with the adults–laughing, crying, and sharing our hearts. This opens the door to Christ’s message of hope. I limit the number of families I serve to about 30. Most of these families have children under the age of 12. Therefore, I have focused on children under 12. Yet I saw that there was a need for middle school and high school children to be served. As I was praying about how these youth could be served, the college ministry shared a desire to get involved with refugees. Who better to serve as a role model for these youth than college students who love Jesus? My hope is that the college ministry would engage the refugee youth into relationships yet empower them to succeed in America. I also pray that at least 10 college students will go as long-term missionaries to Thailand and Myanmar.
Olivia: After Nancy approached the college ministry about getting involved with refugees, the long, but rewarding process began of figuring out how to best engage with Akron refugee youth. Out of this journey, the after-school program and summer camp called Thrive was birthed. Thrive exists to help Akron refugees thrive educationally, socially, and spiritually. This ministry takes our commission seriously: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”-Galatians 6:2. Our overall purpose is to point these students to Jesus. Tangible outlets into their lives meet real needs such as helping them with schoolwork and navigating life in the United States. The nations have come to Akron, Ohio and there is evidence of great need and purpose in what we do to help our international neighbors. The greatest need that I have seen amongst refugee youth is a lack of hope: a lack of hope in Jesus, a lack of hope that they can get an education, and a lack of hope that they will be accepted in the United States. Thrive strives to infuse that hope into refugee youth.