The world in our backyard

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Bethel College has experienced many changes in the past few years while trying to fulfill its commission in sending students into the mission field around the world. While a lot of the focus is on mission fields abroad, last year a group of Bethel men began an outreach to the local community, launching the first Bethel College Urban House Ministry on Calvert Street in South Bend. Because of its success and impact, this year Bethel decided to do something similar in the Keller Park neighborhood, which is also in South Bend. Last April an interview process took place to find students who were interested in the Urban House Ministry. Shawn Holtgren said that they were looking for students who would best fit what Bethel envisioned for the house. “We hope to see life-long laborers in God’s Kingdom equipped and developed for ministry in whatever location He leads them,” said Shawn Holtgren. Junior Susanna Yoder, sophmore Susanna Frusti, junior Chloe Reitherman, and junior Katrina Wheeler were chosen to live in the Urban House Ministry home. Alison Gingrich, a Bethel alumnus, was also selected to serve as a Resident Coordinator along with her fiancé Kory Lantz another Bethel alumnus. The Urban House Ministry program is the first of its kind at Bethel and is a pioneer for the future of Bethel’s outreach into the community. The college has partnered with Sonnyvilla, a non-profit organization who rents the Keller Park home to Bethel for this purpose. The contract with Sonnyvilla and the new program provides a unique position for the residents of the Urban House Mnistry home in relation to food, maintenance, Bethel rules and community service hours. The residents of the Keller Park house are asked to be involved with Sonnyvilla’s program Houses of H.O.P.E. (Homes Openly Providing Encouragement) giving ten hours a month to helping in these homes. The vision of Sonnyvilla with these houses is to provide at-risk youth in an urban setting, with a stable and loving environment. An adult is assigned to each house and they are to fill the role of a parent in the lives of kids who a lot of the time do not have caring or involved parents. The kids who participate in the program are able to get a warm meal three times a week in the house, they are helped with homework, taught a different value/moral each month and are given the opportunity to travel into the city beyond their neighborhood for different events. The participants of the Urban House will be helping the house parents in a variety of different ways, including spending time just hanging out with the kids. The Urban House ladies are also asked to attend the Keller Park Missionary Church in their neighborhood and get involved with others at the church. “The church in unique,” said Katrina Wheeler, “It is a small church, only three houses away, but it has a vision and a heart that is bigger than the building it is in.” The women in the house have already faced some difficult challenges including a variety of maintenance issues. “If a student was interested in the opportunity, I would warn them: If you are doing this for God and God alone, be prepare to be ruined,” said Susie Yoder, “Because only in our weakness is His strength, power, and presence truly seen.” This year is a test year for the Urban House Ministry program and the program is guaranteed to undergo a variety of changes as time goes on. Bethel is looking to the future to make this a program where students are fully immersed in the community around them.
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