Thursday, January 31, 2013


          I’m sure we have all seen an increase of panhandlers standing on the corners here in Grand Rapids.  The look of this sign is pretty familiar, but when you read this sign, it is very different.  Normally what we see people asking for help.  The signs speak of everything from" health issues" to" parent of kids and they are homeless" to" lost my job and can’t feed my dog" to "homeless vet."  Some write whatever they can to pull at the heart strings of the generous West Michigan residents.  This is not going to be about whether or not those people are being honest, what they use the money for or whether or not we should help. This is about is a very simple question.  How many times do you hold this sign up to God?

          We are all guilty.  At some point, and some of us at many points of our lives, pray to God for his direction but hidden in our hearts is this sign saying “I DON’T need help!”    At Super Saturday, Alf, UFM’s Executive Director, taught a lesson on this sign.  He had a couple boys perform a skit where they walked past the young man holding this sign and offering him things like a coat, food, etc.  He shook them off, refusing their aid.  Alf used this skit to talk about the first beatitude found in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are those who are spiritually needy.    The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” (NIVR)  He shared with the kids how we walk around holding this sign up to God quite often.  We might be asking for his guidance or we don’t think his guidance is needed because “We got this,” but our God wants to be in every detail of our lives… the little ones and the big ones.  We need to cross off the “don’t” and beg God to be  our helper, our strength, our refuge.  Our trust should be in HIM, not ourselves.

How often do YOU hold this sign up with the word DON’T?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And camp season begins...

This time of year we begin planning for the approaching summer camp season. You have the opportunity to sponsor a child's camp experience! If you are not part of our mailing list, please go to Urban Family Ministries website and fill in a simple information form to begin receiving periodical mailings. We are excited to share stories and changes being made to our camp program in the coming months, for now here are a few pictures from last summer! 

The end of a week of camp...

At camp we get to play in the water
Play paintball


Be a part of a crud war

And we can get real cruddy.. 

We also get to build real relationships with each other and Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 28, 2013

You just never know why...

You know the kids.  The kids that misbehave week after week, and you swear they're doing it JUST to get on your nerves.    The kids that you'd avoid because you knew they would just drive you nuts if you tried to interact with them.  I'm not proud, but I had this mindset for a while.  I couldn't get outside myself to think about anything but how I was being affected by these kids' behavior.

This was back when I didn't know any of our kids' stories. I remember Noelle talking about some of the families' situations, and suddenly things started to click.  The kid that was angry and wouldn’t talk?  She doesn't trust people because she's been bounced around between family members all her life.  The cranky kid who won't listen to anyone?  He hasn't eaten since yesterday.  The kid who keeps getting in fights?  She gets hit at home and that's the only way she knows how to deal with problems.

It was then that I started to see the big picture.   You never know the whole story.   Even when someone puts on a happy face, they could be hurting deeply inside.

"Be kind for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle" (commonly attributed to Plato).

I'd heard this quote many times, but I only began to understand it better after learning the kids' stories.  No matter how frustrated I was at their behavior, I was able to take a step back and look at the big picture.  I had a couple choices- I could get mad and get angry with them, or I could be kind.

The words friendly, generous, and considerate are found in the definition of kind.  Act as a friend, love generously, and be considerate of their feelings and what they're going through.  Pretty simple in theory, but sometimes very hard in execution.

Before any interaction with our kids I usually have to step back and check myself.  I try to check my frustrations, angers, emotions, and anything I'm carrying myself at the door.  None of these outside circumstances can affect how I treat my kids, that's not fair to them. 

So that's my challenge: to myself, and to you, "Be kind (friendly, generous, considerate) for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle."

~guest author, Melissa, volunteer

Thursday, January 24, 2013


One of my favorite parts of volunteering with Urban Family Ministries is driving.  It's during this time when I have some of the best conversations with my kids and teenagers.  I think it is partly because they are literally stuck with me, and don't have as many opportunities to dodge conversation.

One such conversation happened a few months ago with one of my teen girls.  I'd dropped everyone else off, and we were headed back to the church when Deshownna hopped into the front seat. 

I love this girl.  She always asks great questions, and is much wiser than she even realizes.  She is kind, jubilant, and respectful.

Melissa and UFM Teen Leadership group.
"Miss Melissa," she says, “You know how bad stuff happens?"
"Yes." I replied, knowing of some of the bad things that have happened in the span of 7 years I've known her.
"Well.  When bad stuff happens, good stuff usually eventually comes from it, right?"
"Well.  Since I know something good is going to come from it, I should just have a good attitude while it's going on, right?"

I was astounded by the level of wisdom she had.  She recognized that the “good stuff” came from God, and didn't blame him for the bad things, like we as adults are sometimes apt to do.  This led to a longer conversation about how we go through things to learn, and to help others.    I was able to talk with her about things that my friends and I didn't have the brains to talk about until college.

Although this is something I know, and I've talked about with friends, it doesn't mean I'm living it.  She made it seem so simple; like she had made up her mind, and that's how it was going to be.  She's always had a great attitude about her life, even when she knows it's going pretty terribly. 

Romans 8:28 says:  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  If we believe this to be true, then we to can rejoice in times of trial and suffering. 

James 1: 2-4 says: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  It is the hard times that make us who we are in Christ. 

Philippians 4:13 says "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

God gives us all the tools to rejoice always, we just don’t always utilize them.

I think of all these things when I think of my conversation with Deshownna.  I am so thankful that I have her in my life, and for the things she teaches me.

I hope that I teach the kids/ teens even half as much as they are teaching me.  I am so blessed by their wisdom, and child-like faith.  I pray that they can all have this kind of attitude.  I pray that they can see the bigger picture, and see there is a God who loves them and is with them all the time.

~guest author, Melissa, volunteer

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Isn't He Beautiful?

One evening years ago at Super Saturday, we started to sing. Areli, age 7, leaned close to me and softly said, “I love this song; it makes me cry.”

The music and words about Jesus, her Savior, touched her heart: “Isn't He beautiful? Beautiful, isn't He? Prince of peace, Son of God, isn't He?”

Yes, the Lord Jesus is beautiful. We don't find a specific reference in the Bible describing Him that way, but His personal character is strong yet gentle, holy yet forgiving, majestic yet humble-all combined. Simply beautiful! 

Singing and doing motions to a song at
Super Saturday/Wild Wednesday.  
In his prophecy, Isaiah described Jesus and His coming in this way: “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). 

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor-giving us comfort and wisdom. The Mighty God-acting with power and authority. The Everlasting Father-providing for all our needs and protecting us. And the Prince of Peace-offering reconciliation with God and others.

Isn't Jesus beautiful! Worship Him.  

~guest author, Anne, volunteer

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Out of my comfort zone...

     Five years ago, Urban Family Ministries contacted me about tutoring a 15 year old African boy in reading. He'd been in the United States for 3 years, though couldn't read.  Foday had never gone to school in Africa and he had some anger issues, plus he struggled with our English language.  Having been a teacher of early elementary children in a suburban school district and being a 59 year old woman, I was pretty sure this wasn't going to work.  How in the world could he even relate to me, let alone understand and learn?  I took a couple of days to pray about this request.  
     What a glorious God we have - He gently led me right out of my comfort zone and into one of the most cherished relationships!  Foday and I still tutor/mentor today.  He has so many people who care about him.  We call ourselves 'Team Foday'.  Because of his perseverance, caring ways and Godly heart, his new found Christianity has influenced others in his originally Muslim family.  Often I didn't know where Foday was headed, but I always trusted the Lord had great plans for him.  
     And here he is today, with a high school diploma and a 40 hour a week job!!  His journey has not been a smooth one and we're sure there will be many more obstacles in his path ahead, BUT Jesus is not only walking along side of him, He's inside Foday!  Foday knows God asks him to bring his worries and sorrows, his thankfulness and praise to Him.
     One of Foday's favorite bible passages is Proverbs 3:5,6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."

"We walk by faith, not by sight."

~ guest author, Jane, volunteer

Monday, January 21, 2013

HOW do you do it??

          That is a question we, as staff, are often asked when people find out what we do.  We understand it to be a rhetorical question.  My response doesn't waver, no matter what the motive behind the question.  "It's the hardest thing I've ever done yet the best thing I've ever done."

      It’s not your typical nine-to-five desk job.  Most days are planned in your calendar but rarely executed on schedule.   Some days are so heart wrenching, you pray for Jesus to return and take you home.  Some days are so joyous, you pray to never forget what you are experiencing.   You know that you will need these moments as a reminder for those days when you feel your heart has exited your body and is laying in the middle of traffic with 16-wheelers driving over it one after another after another.
     Recently, I was in a position where I had to make a decision of which family I was going to be with.  One was attending the funeral of the families oldest daughter (followed by a funeral, the next morning, for the step-daughter) who was murdered 4 days before; or be in court to support a young man and his mom whom I’ve known for 10+ years and is working to get custody of his 1 year old son.  If it was just a normal court hearing, it would have been an easier decision but his mom was in despair, afraid they were going to lose the baby over an accident.  How do you decide between two hurting families?  One at the height of their grief over losing a child; the other experiencing anxiety and emotions deeper than they remember in fear of losing their child/grandchild.   The loss for the second family would be as deep as what the first family was in the middle of experiencing.  How do you decide when both things are an hour apart and the drive between the two is 40 minutes?  I searched and searched for an answer...  and there was none.  I sought wise counsel but still did not feel at peace.  I sought counsel again - still no peace.
     These decisions are common when involved in family ministry - other families become your family.   You never know when you might get that phone call, a knock on your door, a text that jolts you out of your reality and thrusts you into a whole different world that is uncomfortable, scary and maybe even dangerous.  Our jobs aren’t just a means to a paycheck.  They are our life. We are on the clock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  
In the trenches
We are in the trenches when we participate in ground level ministry.  We are meeting people who have lived lives that many only see in movies.  We meet with prostitutes; we live next to drug dealers; we have people shot outside our homes; we are with children who do not know how to control their anger; we are in homes of teens who are in need of mental health care; we have kids in our homes who have never experienced affectionate positive love from a parent; we speak with parents who don’t want their kids anymore; we see deep hurt, crippling fear, and overwhelming addiction....  but out of that we also see God’s redeeming power.  We have seen women come to know Jesus and watched their countenance change.  We have seen young men approach us and ask to have a SAFE place to hang out.  We have seen young men and women say “I will never be like this” and surround themselves with people who are helping to pull them out of the cycle.  We have seen children abandoned by their parents, fight to have a better future.

Our God is more powerful than any of the horrific things that we experience.  God has called each of us, whether staff or volunteer staff, to serve at UFM at this time for a specific reason.  Our job is to be obedient to what HE calls us to do.  Until then we dream of a time when we will be sitting face to face with Jesus, in full and complete worship, praising Him.  I recently ran across a song by Kari Jobe entitled ‘The More I Seek You.”  The lyrics provide such a worshipful time in my own corner of the world that I have played it over and over again, dreaming of the time we stand face-to-face with Jesus.

“The more I seek you, the more I find you.  The more I find you, the more I love you.  I wanna sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hand, lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat.  This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand.  I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming.”

It’s these moments and prayers that keep us going.  It’s these times when we have to lean on God’s strength.  It’s these days when we have to keep our eyes focused on the one who called us to minister at the ground level.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A few faces of the ministry...

 We have some awesome and beautiful families.  Here are just a few pictures so you can see what we're talking about...

Brothers and Sisters


Best Friends after eating chocolate pudding

A future UFM employee who leads Super Saturday in prayer almost weekly voluntarily.


One of our youngest Super Saturday attendees

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Life before and after UFM...

Miracle was asked to speak with Alf Clark, Executive Director of Urban Family Ministries this fall at a local church to share what UFM is about. Miracle is a senior at a local urban christian school, is a leader in the Teen Leadership group at UFM and is currently working on applications for colleges. She was asked to speak to what life was like before UFM and after UFM. Here is what she wrote... 

Before UFM, my life was like a rope. Everything was tied into a knot. I was the only girl of four boys and I had a big bag of confusion hanging on my shoulder. I was confused about why I always had to take care of my brothers. Rather that's cooking dinner, cleaning the house which I hated so much or helping them with their homework. Of course, I didn't have time for devotions because I really didn't know God, I mean, I knew God existed but I didn't know why I needed Him.

My life started to brighten when my mom told me about UFM. She told me that UFM is a mini-Bible study for kids in he urban community. I knew nothing about it until my brothers asked me to come to Super Saturday at Calvary Church. I had lots of fun on that day and met lots of people. I was a little afraid when I met Ms. Noelle. She looked mean and had a facial expression of a villain. Noelle has been working for UFM for at least 15 years and is still pulling through every single Saturday. In that moment, I did not know she would soon be my guardian. Another rock dropped in my bag of confusion when my mom told me she was moving to Ohio.

  I really didn't want to move because Noelle put me into a really good school. It was a christian school of 150 kids. I really didn't want to leave because I loved the school so much. So my mom called Noelle and asked if I could stay there so I could say in school. She graciously said YES! My life changed after that point. Noelle is someone who helped me to be who I am today. She brought me into her home as one of her daughters. She has made me into who I am today by teaching me leadership skills that I can use in my daily life, when I'm older or even now. Someone else who has led me to where I am now is Alf Clark. He has been such a father figure to me whether it being my Bible teacher in school or my basketball coach on the court. He has showed to never be afraid to go on and pursue my dreams as a leader.

Now that I'm surrounded with UFM, my christian life has changed. I go to church every Sunday. I'm a discipleship leader at school and I pray - for real. I pray out loud every single morning during school chapel. I love talking to God. He has blessed me with new christian friends, family and especially UFM. These two people have helped me to become who I am today. I can see UFM growing every day without a doubt. it's so surprising how it has changed over the past few months with staff or even the kids of UFM. UFM has so many great volunteers, staff and other supports to help impact kids just like me become who they really are.

~ guest author Miracle, high school senior

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Going to ALL Nations.... right here in Grand Rapids

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

     One of my favorite things about Super Saturday is being the last one out of the parking lot for pickup. We drivers get together and pray before we depart to pick up our kids and teens.  When we're done praying, we find our clipboards, grab the keys, the teens and kids who arrive early pick a driver to ride with, and we're off.  If possible, I like to be the last to leave the parking lot.  I love seeing the vans go in their different directions.  The red van heads in one direction, off to pick up kids in nearby neighborhoods.  The rest of us hop on the highway in a caravan.  Then, one by one, exits are taken.  First blue and green, then purple. I, the pink route, have the furthest to travel before my first stop, but I like it that way as well.  I get to see each van make its way into the neighborhoods.  I've ridden along on most of the routes and know where they're going as they depart from the shared road space.  It brings a smile to my face to know where they're going, and which kids they're picking up.  I get excited about who I'm hopefully going to see that night. 
     One night as I was watching all the vans go their respective ways, it made me think of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).  Specifically, I thought of verses 19 & 20.  Jesus is speaking to his disciples: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Every Saturday we may not be going to all nations, but we are going to many neighborhoods, picking up many kids who represent many nations.  If we disciples make disciples, who make disciples, and so on, we could very well reach all nations.  What a beautiful picture. I am so blessed to be among this group of disciple-makers.  There are numerous volunteers who make Super Saturday and other UFM programs happen.  It is energizing, and encouraging having a common vision to make disciples of all nations.  To teach them what Jesus taught, with the authority that we have in Christ. Few circumstances offer such a clear depiction of the Great Commission, but it's one of the things I look forward to every week.  I cling to the promise that Jesus is with us "always, to the very end of the age" as we go.  I covet your prayers for safe travels, and for opportunities to speak to this next generation of disciples/disciple makers.

 ~  Guest Author Melissa K, Volunteer

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year... New Blog....

     At the start of every year people make promises to themselves and to others about their eating habits, work-out habits, being nicer, being wiser with their money and the list goes on.  As this new year begins, our commitment is to start sharing more stories!  God has placed us in community with incredible people with experiences and memories we’d be amiss to overlook.   There are so many God sightings, yet we quickly forget what God has done, unless we capture the blessings in writing, pictures, or by sharing stories in conversation.  We want this blog to serve as a reminder that God is always moving, we just need to slow down and listen.  A variety of authors’ works will be published.  Everyone contributing to this blog is connected to Urban Family as a volunteer, participant or staff who is ministering at the ground level, sharing with you how God is speaking to their hearts.  We pray it will inspire you to search for God’s will in your life.  SO, grab a cup of coffee or your favorite pop, sit back and read up on what God has been doing through Urban Family Ministries.