On a sunny afternoon in September three members of NeoXenos toured the South Street neighborhood of Akron with Duane Crabbs, founder of South Street Ministries. He’s known by the locals—and all the locals know him—as “the Pastor.”
First, he greeted two kids who were walking home from school. “Do you want to come over and work on your homework?” he asked.
“No, Mr. Crabbs. I gotta help my mom. We’re moving.”
“Oh, man, you’re leaving South Street?” Crabbs followed the kids to the moving truck and listened to them chatter about how many homework assignments they completed. Then he hugged them good-bye.
“They’re probably moving because they can’t pay the rent,” he conjectured as he led the tour around the corner. “Gevonte!” he exclaimed, hugging the boy whom he greeted. “Are you coming over today?” Gevonte said he was.
Before the tour could get any further, an elderly man hailed Crabbs from across the street. “Hey, Pastor, I need a tire for my bike.”
“Okay, c’mon over to the shop and I’ll get you one,” he shouted back.
“How much is it?”
“You know you don’t have to worry about that. Just c’mon over.”
A few steps later, a man approached the group from across the street. “I have a hernia, Pastor. Will you pray for me?”
“Yeah, let’s pray right now.” The group joined hands right there and lifted up the working man’s health to the Lord. Before the group returned to Crabbs’s property, another boy joined them and they met the owner of the corner store.
Since that walking tour eight members of the Michalek home church have visited South Street Ministries’ after school program. The daily schedule includes time for snacks, homework assistance, crafts, Bible teachings and prayer. The kids always receive a bag lunch and sometimes other necessities, such as clothes, coats, hats and gloves.
Mark Michalek describes South Street as a “non-institutional, very relational ministry” that shares many values with Xenos, like discipleship, Bible teachings and indigenous leadership. Although the after school program is structured, the environment is relaxed and allows time to get to know the kids.
The program used to run Monday through Thursday but due to lack of volunteers, they’ve cut back to two days a week. That’s where we come in. If NeoXenos can provide at least three volunteers for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the program could run four days again.
Sarah Ramsey has faithfully volunteered both days since September. She’s built relationships with the kids and become aware of the program’s needs.
“It would be good if more people could come to the program because the kids get more individual attention that way,” she explained. Many of the children need such attention as they come from extremely broken homes. For example, one boy prayed for his dad who is in jail. Two girls live with their grandma because their mother uses drugs.
Such problems often stem from a generational cycle of poverty. The Bible calls on us to help those in need: “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Proverbs 14:31). While giving financially is a good way to serve, South Street’s after school program has the potential for greater impact. By giving kids the gospel, resources and stable relationships, they are working to break the poverty cycle in their area. They’ve already seen some success as the nearby school has much higher test scores than other Akron City Schools.
Sarah shared a vision for our Body working together at South Street. “When different people volunteer, they bring different strengths and gifts to the program. For example, Sara Dabbagh is better at being silly with the kids than I am,” she said. Sarah has brought her patience and creativity to South Street by rewarding kids who practice and learn math facts.
Others who’ve visited include Mark and Diana Michalek, Leah Zimmerman Craig Smith, Jackie Stuart, and Kalie Brooks. All have shown enthusiasm about the opportunities at South Street. And “the kids are so cute!” Jackie and Diana both gushed.
The kids like the program too. One girl said she likes coming “to get away from home. I like the crafts, homework time, and the Bible stories.” She said she’s learned about God’s character from the teachings. From the kindergarteners to the fifth graders, the children are fun to talk with, quick to open up and very affectionate.
“I really wish more guys would volunteer,” Sarah said. “I think the boys there would like that.” In many of the kids’ homes there is no male influence present, yet the program only sees one man volunteer regularly. It’s clear that the boys feel drawn to him; one boy often whispers something to him that he doesn’t want others to hear.
Mark has been investigating opportunities to serve the poor for over a year and agrees that South Street is the best fit for our fellowship. While the after school program is the only place for us to serve now, Crabbs is open to us getting more involved as we build relationships in the community. “It would be great to start a cell group with some of the older girls there,” Sarah said, sharing one of the many ways we could deepen our involvement in the future.
As a fellowship we have too long ignored the call to serve the poor. We don’t want to become like Sodom, who was guilty because “she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49). Instead, let’s join hands with South Street as they “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) by transforming the community spiritually and physically. The Bible says “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Proverbs 19:17). God is eager to reward people who help those He so deeply loves.
If your schedule allows, visit the after school program at least once on Mondays or Thursdays from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Then prayerfully consider if God is calling you to serve there. For more information, check out the Service Ministry Basecamp and talk to someone who has visited the program.