When we think of missions, we often think of crossing oceans to witness to unreached people groups. But in reality, there are unreached people right here in our American cities.
On this week’s podcast we have Nate Bull and Mark Van Andel from Hesed Community Church in Detroit. They tell of their ministry in some of Detroit’s toughest neighborhoods.
Nate has been a Reformed Church pastor and urban church planter for the past 10 years. Mark is a CRC minister who has lived in Detroit for the last 12 years. Four years ago, they came together to begin the ministry that they would call Hesed Community Church. Hesed is a Hebrew word that shows up in Jonah 4 when Jonah is complaining about Nineveh. Jonah did not like Nineveh and he knew that God had hesed, a loving kindness, for the city. Nate and Mark claim that loving kindness of God for the city of Detroit. They found the forgotten neighborhoods of Detroit and decided that that was where they would do ministry.
[00:06:35] The ministry of Hesed
Often when someone comes into a place to minister there, they impose their own models of church on the people. In contrast, Nate and Mark wanted to see how God could already be working in the neighborhood and be catalysts for that. Instead of having a traditional church service each week, they focus on discipleship and hope that a worshipping community will come out of that discipleship. They bought an abandoned house, invited churches to partner with them to fix it up, and turned it into a place that could serve the neighborhood by offering a place for emergency housing situations, a bathroom for those that needed it, laundry, anything that would help them love the people in the community.
[00:11:12] How is the ministry supported?
The ministry is based on the way that Jesus did ministry – by doing life together. By spending time together with the people in the community, they hope they can influence them for the better. Since they are not traditional pastors, Nate and Mark are supported much like a missionary is supported – they have to raise their own funds. They have to be creative in raising support. One way is by having multiple revenue streams, the “gig economy,” through business, donors, or other ways of funding their ministry.
[00:16:20] Is ALL of Detroit making a come back?
Detroit’s downtown area is revitalised and making a comeback, but is that economic fortune trickling down to all of the Detroit area? Not really. The people in the Brightmoor area, where Hesed does its ministry, do not reap the benefits of the redeveloped downtown area. Furthermore, there is a lack of public transportation, so many people are stuck in their own neighborhood. The neighborhood of Brightmoor itself has a lot of violence, most people do not own their home, there are many homes in disrepair or abandoned. The overall atmosphere is one of limited trust and friendship, escalated violence, few whole families, and a poor mindset. There is the issue of people receiving the basic necessities of life.
[00:21:00] How can you get involved?
The way Nate and Mark have described their ministry sounds like global missions, yet this is happening right here in our cities. Luckily there is still the light of the loving kindness of God, hesed. In order to get relationally involved with this ministry, send them an email. You can come serve the neighborhood and see how God is working. Though they’ve tried to describe their ministry, you can only truly understand by going and experiencing it. Some things to pray for: the maturation of the discipleship group so that leaders will come out of it, the continued energy, perseverance, patience, kindness, and emotional resilience of those serving in the ministry.
Benefit Twice (Kalamazoo)
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EPISODE 11 v.1
DOUG: Well, welcome to the Luminex podcast and we’re glad to have Nate Bull and Mark van Andel from Hesed church in Detroit in the Brightmoor neighborhood with us and welcome to the program guys.
NATE: Thank you brother. Thanks for having us.
MARK: Thank you, it’s good to be here.
DOUG: So the first person was Nate. Nate, tell us a little bit about yourself.
NATE: I’m a Reformed church pastor. I think the urban church planter is my technical term in the south west Michigan Classis in the Reformed church in America. And I’ve been doing street ministry for a number of years but we’ve been doing urban church planting in the reformed church for about 10 years now.
DOUG: And Mark, give us a little bio of yourself.
MARK: Sure. I’m a minister in the Christian reformed church classis. And I have been in Detroit for the last 12 years mainly working in community development and church planting efforts and then Nate and I have been partners in this ministry for last few years trying to explain what it means to see God’s kingdom come in the neighborhoods of Detroit.
DOUG: So tell me about this name of your ministry Hesed. What does it mean and how did you come to name this outreach this church after that Hebrew word?
NATE: I think it’s in Jonah 4 that’s where we get it out of. It’s all over the old testament by Hesed is the loving kindness it gets translated sometimes it gets translates those kinds that vein of loving kindness. But for us when we were looking through Jonah 4 and thinking of the variety of different ways that is translated, the translation that really stuck out to us is the covenant keeping love of the father and that’s what that Hesed is. Sometimes translated just love but it’s actually in a covenant keep kind of thing. So in Jonah 4, it’s when Jonah is accusing God and he actually uses it in kind of a derogatory way where he says, I knew that you were full of Hesed. I knew that you were full of loving kindness and I knew you didn’t want to destroy them that’s why I didn’t want to come. And that’s kind of our feeling about the city of Detroit like the loving kindness of the father, the covenant keeping love that he has for all of his creation is enough for him to stop what’s going on in Detroit and we want to be part of that kind of demonstration of love.
MARK: And ironically when you have the name Hesed people ask the question and it allows us to describe what Nate just did that demonstrates this is the reason we feel compelled to be part of the church in Detroit is because God hasn’t forgotten the city, God’s love is stead fast covenant keeping love extends to all people regardless of what they have been through in their lives.
DOUG: So it’s really encapsulation of God’s vision that given to you but also a great conversation starter in your context and that’s awesome.
DOUG: So tell us a little bit about how this came about, what’s going on through Hesed and in Detroit?
NATE: We got an ink clean in our heart maybe being moved by the holy spirit about four years ago let me say four years ago and kind of didn’t know whether it was going to be Chicago or Detroit and through just a couple of friends and through sometime in prayer, felt no we were supposed to go towards Detroit. So we started what we call scouting exercises where we would just go and scout different areas of the city and see where is those people hanging out, where there is still looks like areas that are still highly populated but also hard places. So we were looking for places maybe near drug stores or maybe near thrifty stores or near liquor stores and about it might have been almost four years ago is when I met Mark and then I started the process of recruiting him to come and do the work. He was already doing a lot of really good stuff with house church network he was in. were you doing that at the time?
MARK: Not yet but I spurred towards that by our conversations.
NATE: Alright. So he had that in his mind and I remember just kind of calling him and wife up one time and just saying like, you got to make a decision, are you with or with us? And we both had [00:05:00] similar ideas about that in the end areas that were some of the hardest of the city maybe a traditional model of church had done all it was going to do there and there are still churches within less than a mile of the ministry house in Detroit that are still seem to be effective in some way but the people that we wanted to impact the most weren’t going to impacted by a traditional model of doing church. So we kind of agreed even though no right away like technically but we were in agreement from the very beginning about the kind of ministry that we would be willing to give large portions of our career to.
MARK: Yeah, so pretty much Nate came to me and said, what’s the hardest neighborhoods in Detroit? What are the neighborhoods where nobody wants to go, and nobody wants to experience and I pointed him in a few directions and he went out and walked the streets of those neighborhoods and interact with people and felt called to Brightmoor as specific neighborhood to enter into and. And my passion has also been for the neighborhoods of Detroit, for people who are long forgotten. There’s lots of church planting happening in Detroit and often times in more denitrifying areas or areas with more access to resources but I didn’t see many people streaming into neighborhoods that were struggling and people that had been left behind and some of the economic redevelopment. So we had that common heart and we’ve entered into this with the desire to see Brightmoor be loved with the Hesed love that the father has given to us So that kind of our vision together in that.
DOUG: Yeah, so as you described the church, many of our listeners would say well, I want to visit you on a Sunday morning and that’s not something that they could probably do at this point. Tell us about how you go about this ministry, how you’re building foundation, how the church is emerging as you love this neighborhood as you connect with this neighborhood. Give us some of the story about how this is coming about.
MARK: Sure. So one of the things that I believe is that sometimes we can impose even in neighborhoods that were somewhat familiar with we can impose our models of church onto people and what we really wanted to see was kind of God but what God was doing and bubbling in that neighborhood already and how could we be catalysts for what God was doing. So, when we started ministry a couple of years ago, we started just walking the streets, we’d fill up a cooler with ice and pop and water and walk down in the summer down the streets and offer to give people something to drink and have conversations and bump into some people this concept of the persons of peace people who are in the community who would be open to us and responsive to the message that we were providing what We started interacting with some of those people and we’ve kind of gone from there to developing kind of a ministry model of bible study and discipleship trying to multiply ourselves and through indigenous leaders in the community. So that’s been kind of our structure and we do believe in a worshipping community. we want to see a worshipping community but our primary drive is to see discipleship and often times discipleship doesn’t happen best on Sunday mornings when people are often facing forward toward the stage So we’re trying to say how do we do discipleship and then allow worship to flow out of that as a result and not saying a worship service as the end point but as one stage in the development of our community that’s primarily focused on making disciples.
NATE: And in addition to that, the model that we have chosen to use as a tool is a mission outpost. So we purchased an abandoned house in an area that still had some difficult issues in it, started partner with people to get the house renovated. That was an opportunity for other churches to come in and partner with us as we are doing our work which is an important part of our philosophy in ministry. But again the question that I ask about everything that we do as the ministry house is, will this help us to love people better? So they had to make some decisions like there were some decisions about how to use some of the rooms and they were both pretty good ideas but when it came down to it making a decision to keep the room open so that someone could use it if they had to at night for emergency housing that is just be a decision where love people better. And so access to the bathroom which we give anytime anybody needs it because there are a lot of squatters in that neighborhoods, they don’t have access to running water. So making sure the neighborhood knows that if they had to use the bathroom, they could come to the Hesed house and people really don’t know really know other than [00:10:00] kind of like, well that’s the prayer house I’ve heard, that’s the church house I’ve heard. but the reason it catches people off guard is because when people see a church building, there are certain activities and certain people that you would expect to see in that building but with just a regular house, they are caught off guard by the kindness of the people that are authority there and it’s a shock to their system in a good way. So everything in the house has got to be useful to loving people if we are going to really start to like get some fish on this hook.
MARK: So the steps for people into our church community maybe doing laundry with our washer and drier rather than coming into a worship service first. The house allows us to engage as neighbors and friends first and kind of strips some of the baggage of a traditional church. So we kind of are able to operate in a different spirit and then when we do our discipleship ministry, then people they have a different context for that. We’re not just about doing a church service. They’re open to some new thoughts because it’s a nontraditional setting so that’s a helpful asset to us.
DOUG: So in so many ways you’re planting the gospel, you’re beginning in many cases in a family, you’re in a first generation of discipleship, you’re loving people, You’re connecting with people, you’re providing tangible needs through this ministry house and so this is really foundation building as you do this ministry. It’s really exciting. I’ve been there and just to see what’s going on there. Can you – I think about my listeners right and I’m thinking how do we describe some of the ways that the kingdom of God is manifest, some of the things that go on in that house that are really laying that foundation.
MARK: Well because we have lunch and bible study every week. We get an opportunity to serve and serve with people so we had a situation a couple of weeks ago where one woman was working in the kitchen and she loves to serve and cook so we give her that opportunity and then another woman came into the kitchen and they got into a little spat about how the kitchen should be organized and how they should cook together or not together. Ended up being an opportunity because it happened there in that space that we were able to guide them into some reconciliation and send some encouragement so that they learn to relationally get along. I feel like a lot of the wounds in our neighborhood are relationally driven so that space gives us that opportunity and those resources that we provide give us the opportunity to help disciple people in just everyday life things. Its not just about church stuff its about doing life together and so because its in a home because we are in that setting, we get the opportunity to be able to train people and equip people in that kind of tangible life way.
NATE: It’s not a new idea because we feel like it’s the method that Jesus chose as well. You just spend a lot of time with people and then you start to rub off on them. So we made an attempt to make it as easy as possible to hang out with us and then really believe in that eventually they start to desire to have the same outcomes in life and the same peace. So it’s just like that kind of an attraction.
DOUG: Yeah, wow and obviously with that come a lot of challenges. This doesn’t happen – life transformation doesn’t happen in people’s lives easily but no matter what but in a context like this, it can be one step forward two steps back but God is working on his timetable. Now, obviously it’s not a traditional kind of church. There is a lot of church going on and so you as pastors don’t get supported in the same way that a pastor of a church down the street from me might get supported. How does that work? How do you get supported? How can our listeners be a part of that if God leads them to do that?
NATE: There are a couple of different ways that we decided to support ministry, one actually is to raise funds for the different mission sites that we have and have people invest in the ministry that way. That’s a challenge in this era of Christianity in our nation just because there’s a paradigm shift going on about how ministry looks and while that’s going on, the term domestic missionary doesn’t have as much weight as it will have in future but that is one way that we see ourselves is kind of like domestic missionaries so we do have to raise support by individuals and organizations in the same way a missionary does. But I think number two one of the other things has been exciting for us is when we start businesses that the [00:15:00] revenue goes to help the missions in the streets and in the different neighborhoods That’s been a really big blessing it’s been a challenge because they’ll still take money to raise to get them up and running but it’s become a source of residual income and that’s the kind of stuff that we – the kind of ways of looking at outside the box for funding that we really like to think about.
MARK: Yes, so we’re committed to saying we’re going try and get creative ways to raise money because we don’t have a service that supports us by taking collection. We’ve committed with our monthly service worship with like minded people in Detroit to say if we take an offering, the first monies will go towards benevolence or covering the cost of renting a building space or whatever but we don’t to feel like our salaries are the primary driver of raising money in our community when there’s such great need in the community. So we’ve said, we’re going to try and do creative alternative ways to be able to raise money to be able to continue to do the ministry and we see this as the future of the church in some ways that it’s some of the gig economy concept like we’ve got to have different revenue streams so we’ve got this business, this benefit twice store that’s been started in Kalamazoo that helps to benefit our ministry and other avenues to be able to try and creatively raise support for the ministry that we want to do each day.
DOUG: Yeah, so multiple streams of income, multiple supporters, different agencies, organizations, churches but really the backbone of this is people that just care about Detroit, care about the renewal of a city can just contribute directly. There’s a couple of ways that we can do that. We’re going to put in the show notes to your website and your contact information on the site that goes along with this podcast but also you can just go directly to luminexusa.org, push the dropdown menu give and you find Hesed and you can give a direct contribution to them through that. So in many ways, sustainability and crowd sourcing and entrepreneurship are alive in this project. Yeah, interesting.
MARK: Yeah, Detroit has always been a city where people have kind of come up with creative ideas and generated new things to impact the world and we feel like in some ways we’re doing that with the way we are thinking about church and church starting in this community.
DOUG: Now, a lot of our listeners live on the west side of Michigan and we hear oh Detroit’s coming back and often we think about the 7.2 miles of downtown Detroit and we forget that Detroit is 136 square miles. Tell us a little bit more about the Brightmoor area and the need. What’s going on there that can help us to understand that yeah that’s true, Detroit’s coming back but it’s not there yet? So, can you describe some of that for us?
MARK: Sure, sociologist Thomas Segurus[ph] says trickle down to urbanomics does not work. This concept that somehow if you’ve got a great downtown midtown area that then everybody is going to eventually benefit from that. It sounds good in theory and there’s probably some practical application in it but the people that we encounter in Brightmoor don’t sniff the benefits of downtown redevelopment. Brightmoor is about 10 or 12 miles outside of the downtown midtown area that’s been redeveloped. So these people, some of them have never been downtown or not since they were a kid so they don’t experience that. And another issue that we have in Detroit is a lack of public transportation and so when people are looking for a job, their options are limited to what they can walk to within a mile or two radius and that can be so limiting for the economical development of people. So we encountered a lot of people who’ve had jobs in the past but they’ve been discourage by the lack of opportunities and spaces. So this community is far from this redevelopment and it’s kind of excluded from bumping into other neighborhood communities because the transportation neighboring communities have systematically shut down their regional transportation system to be able to keep people from the city, from exploring employment opportunities in their community. So we’re seeing a lot of people who are discouraged, who don’t see the benefits of the redevelopment or the revitalization of the downtown area, who really don’t have hope that that’s ever going to benefit them. They just feel like this is the way that it has been for as long as they can remember and they don’t see hope for the future.
NATE: The neighborhood itself is one of the poor neighborhoods in Detroit, a lot of violence and the people that are living there I think [00:20:00] most of them do not own their home. Very few homeowners in that community and the overall atmosphere in the neighborhood aside from the ministry house I would say would be there’s no trust, there’s very little true friendship, willing to jump to violence and escalate different things very quickly, Very few families, very few fathers actually with their families in the neighborhood and a lot of the houses are falling down even the ones that people are living in. and then there is also big sections of the neighborhood that are completely abandoned all the way where the house is not only just fallen over but someone has turned over the soil now there’s nothing there but grass. So it’s a really interesting section of the city but it’s definitely very, very poor mindsets as well.
DOUG: So issues of people getting the basic necessities of life, clean water, access to being able to take a shower, clean themselves, have basic sanitation this feels like global missions in so many ways and yet you’re not crossing an ocean to do this. I think that’s just an appeal that I would make to our listeners is you don’t have to go very far to be a missionary to those who are in very, very deep need, need of the gospel, need of the life’s basic necessities. Well, I really appreciate that picture, it’s a sobering picture but there is this light of this steadfast love the loving kindness of God the Hesed of God coming through you. So we’ve talked about people helping you financially which is of course very important, obviously people can pray. If someone is interested in getting relationally involved with you, with the neighborhood, with the house in some way, can you suggest some steps that they might take or some questions that they might ask themselves?
MARK: Sure, you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org that one way to get in touch with us just practically email@example.com but we do feel both Nate and I feel a call to the church not just to church planting but also to the regional church, we feel like the work we are doing has a benefit of a reciprocal nature that we can serve both people in our neighborhood and the church at large. So we’re happy to help people help visit and see in person or we can suggest some reading to them that might help them to understand the perspectives we are seeing on the ground each day. So those are a couple of things we can do if people get in touch with us.
NATE: We take I guess you would call them missionary groups. We’ve worked with them. They’ve helped do some of the restores in the house and some just put in some vegetable boxes. There are little things like that around the house and around the neighborhood even if it’s not with our house, we’ve had people come and worked on one of the neighbors houses and that’s the way to get tangibly involved as well because I think for you to really start to grasp what it is we are experiencing in the end city, you probably have to come and see it it’s not that far.
DOUG: Yeah and so that – I take that’s an invitation that contact you, come and see what’s going on at the ministry house and there maybe some opportunities for some tangible things that you could do to help people but also to really become relationally connected with you in the ministry. We want to urge people to do that as the lord leads. It’s been good to have you guys here. Really appreciate you both and the spirit that you’re bringing to this – let’s go back to prayer. What are some things that people can be praying about over these next few months for Hesed, for Brightmoor, for Detroit?
NATE: I think one of the things that we’re really joining hard in prayer is for the maturation of the discipleship group because of our deep desire to invest in indigenous leaders that’s always on our heart and we’re in an area where just basic Christianity is far, far, far from the baseline that we’re receiving. So we need prayers to continue with our energy, continue with our perseverance, continue with our patience and continue with our kindness in that we want to get weary in our well doing. I think that one of the things that we see [00:25:00] in a lot of our ministry sites is emotional breakdown or like you just take all the hurts and the pain of the neighborhood that you’re in and either you start making stupid decisions or you start sleeping all the time. So we’d really like prayers for our emotional resilience and that we will be wise in the way that we spend yourself for a good cause and a good call we can’t burn out.
DOUG: Its really the work of a missionary that you’re describing, isn’t it? You’re making those first disciples, those first converts, raising them up into indigenous leaders and then as they plant the gospel, as they plant new disciples, new churches, new groups in the area then we see God moving and renewing and increasing the number of laborers in a place that is harassed and helpless, because like sheep without a shepherd. Well, Nate it’s been great to have you here Mark…
NATE: Thank you.
DOUG: …it’s been great to have you and we’re praying for you, we’re excited about you and about what God is doing through you and to our listeners, make sure you get in touch with Mark and Nate and with us at lumixeusa.org and till next time this has been a luminex podcast.
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