Renew 2022: Not Just Headlines

Homelessness. Refugees. Sex trafficking.

These are headline phrases we hear on the news. They have become ever-present in our world today. While most notably found in urban areas like Atlanta, we are seeing them more and more everywhere. They are often approached as academic subjects, or referred to as “social ills.” They happen somewhere else and we gather information about them, but rarely do we encounter them face to face.

Unless, that is, you take a Timothy Christian Renew trip to Atlanta.

Atlanta has many nicknames, such as The Big Peach, The Big A, A-Town, Dogwood City, or even New York of the South. But not unlike other urban areas, Atlanta also experiences homelessness, houses refugees, and deals with sex trafficking. Renew is an opportunity to teach students that, as Christians, they are called to serve others — the poor and downtrodden. Matthew 25:40 says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The contingent from Timothy (thirteen students and two faculty members) who traveled to Atlanta weren’t exactly sure what they would be doing. They had been in contact with Frontline Ministries (the ministry that their missions travel partner Joshua Expeditions works with) but not much was known about this ministry as they hadn’t yet experienced them in action.

The Timothy group learned that what Frontline does is done relationally. They walk streets where the homeless gather. They visit sites where refugees from Asia, Africa, and South America congregate. They meet those who have found themselves caught up sex trafficking.

Showing genuine interest in a person and their circumstances builds trust, and trust leads to transformation.

These encounters taught powerful lessons. Senior Kate Carpenter found the experience eye-opening. “The stereotypes I had in my mind of the homeless and refugees were shattered,” she explained.

People want to change, but do not have, nor can they access, the resources to accomplish that change. Frontline builds relationships with people and provides resources for them to overcome their current situation. Much of this is done through one-on-one conversations that lead to presenting solutions.

The Timothy group joined Frontline Response’s “Legacy Kids” program in a condo development by going door-to-door and inviting the kids to come out and play, and then shared the gospel message. There were many “no thank you” responses early on, but once they reached families who had developed a relationship with Legacy Kids, the children were eager to participate.

In the evening, the students joined a group of about 20 Frontline Response volunteers and went to downtown Atlanta to hand out blankets and a hot meal. At first this seemed rushed, as if getting rid of the blankets was the goal (and they were in demand!). But as the group approached people outside of a place called “The Shrine” and a shelter called “Gateway,” conversations began to develop. Students in small groups were able to listen to stories that ranged from someone who could not read or write and had been homeless for only a week, to someone living in a tent and homeless for over 40 years. There was even the story of a man who missed his flight back to Detroit who was kidnapped and chased down on the streets of Atlanta by men trying to force him to commit their illegal activities. He was connected by phone with his mom (who thought he was dead) in Detroit and rescued by being brought to the Greyhound station and boarding a bus back to Detroit!

One of the common themes in all service projects is that participants will be surprised by what they learn. There were a variety of reasons that Timothy students signed up for the trip, but in the end God impressed on them the power of a ministry of presence. Showing genuine interest in a person and their circumstances builds trust, and trust leads to transformation. Junior Giovanni Molina learned the value of meeting people where they are without judgment or preconceived notions. “I learned the value of showing real interest and not to treat people as objects of our curiosity,” said Molina.

For Timothy faculty members Tim Wierenga and Abigail Perry, the evenings spent with students discussing the day and what they learned were very valuable. They came away more impressed than ever with Timothy students. “They dug in and did the work. They did whatever was asked,” commented Mr. Wierenga.

Ms. Perry echoed Mr. Wierenga’s sentiments. “It was a great opportunity to see our students from Timothy outside of their regular environment fully engaged in serving God’s people.”

Homelessness. Refugees. Sex trafficking.

Not just headlines, but real issues, affecting real people who were created in God’s own image.

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