“God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity when we plan only the things we can do by ourselves”. – A.W. Tozer In
In 1998, a group of students from Elkton, MD prayed about where they felt God calling them to take their one-week summer mission trip. The students had three choices: Appalachia, Chicago and Detroit. While most students knew nothing about Detroit, they unanimously felt that Detroit was where God was calling them, and that is where they went. On that trip, the leaders of that trip (Nate & Heidi) fell in love with the people of Detroit and the work that God was doing there. After two years of co-leading the youth group’s trips to Detroit, Heidi was recruited by a short-term missions organization to lead short-term mission projects with a focus on inner city Detroit. It was during the first year of leading projects that Heidi and Kevin met.
Kevin was a youth pastor from Brainerd, MN who had a vision for how short term missions could be crafted in to much more effective experiences for everyone involved if the church committed to cultivating long-term relationships. Kevin had a vision that as he brought his students and their leaders back to Detroit year after year, students would be faced with the challenges and blessings that come from long-term relationships with people. Through their continued exposure to trips in Detroit, students would also grow their skills sets so that as they graduated they could begin to staff projects themselves and become the leaders, rather than those being led. He dreamed that these students could become mission committee members at churches when they left for college. These students could become full-time missionaries around globe. Perhaps these students could become the financial support behind a movement that was bigger than just them! At the same time, as more and more students became involved in long term, personal relationships with people in Detroit, the whole church, not just his students, became familiar with the people of Detroit and began to develop a heart for the city as well. After eight years as the youth pastor in Brainerd, Kevin and his family relocated to Edgewater, FL to pastor a new youth group, but his vision and commitment to Detroit remained. Excitingly, his new youth group has caught a vision for something so much more. Through his new youth group, Jeremy and Emmeline Decker became involved in Detroit as well.
As Kevin was growing and developing a long-term vision for ministry in Detroit, Heidi was honing what she likes to call a “unique” skill set. She was blessed with the opportunity to pursue first a masters and then a PhD in issues related to poverty. During her masters she was able to study issues like family risk and resilience and urban poverty. For her PhD, her dissertation focused on how to measure the effectiveness of programs targeted at helping at-risk youth, with a specific focus on how concentrated poverty and social capital impact outcomes for students. During the summers while she was pursuing her graduate degrees, Heidi spent 10 years leading youth groups from all over the country on short-term missions to urban areas such as New Orleans, Chicago and Denver, but her primary focus during that time was always Detroit.
Somewhere in all of this time, Jenny and her husband David, former students in Kevin’s youth group in Minnesota who first came to Detroit as middle schoolers, became an important component of our ministry team as well. Just as Kevin had dreamed so many years earlier, the led truly have become the leaders! Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of our long time presence in Detroit, is the relationships we have developed with different people for local church and outreach organizations. Through our time working with the HOPE Baptist Center, Detroit Rescue Mission, Central Detroit Christian and a host of other wonderful partners, we have developed long lasting partnerships and friendships!
For over a decade we have watched God continually grow what we get to be a part of in Detroit, but our relationship with Detroit grew significantly during Christmas 2010. After years of serving together, Kevin finally received a clear and specific calling to something beyond any of our expectations or dreams. Detroit Love, Inc. was born. This step cemented our commitment to serving with one another in ministry in Detroit. How strange that God would take ten years to knit families, children, leaders and students together. How crazy that people from Pennsylvania, Florida and Minnesota and more, across denominational lines, feel God’s unified passion for the hurting, broken, and too often forgotten? Yet how perfect is our God?! Perhaps this is one of the most amazing things about this ministry; it doesn’t make sense without God. We know that. Yet, for some reason, God has brought us together to be Jesus to the people of Detroit because the Gospel matters every day.