KANSAS CITY – When vacant houses are widespread in a community, it’s detrimental to that community. Empty houses breed vandalism, prostitution, drug activity and other bad elements to an otherwise nice neighborhood.
“We saw the vacant house epidemic and knew it was the biggest need, so we did something about it,” said Gary Cornelius Jones, pastor at The U Church in southeast Kansas City and member of the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board.
The church partnered with a private developer and volunteered hundreds of man-hours and buckets of sweat to rehabilitate some of the more run-down houses in the area. Now they are homes that anyone would be proud to live in.
“I don’t think we even realize the impact that this ministry is having on the lives of the people here,” Jones said.
The rehab ministry is one of many outreach ministries that The U Church has started. The church, which Jones helped to plant eight years ago, is named for its mission Scripture found in John 20:21, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’”
The church’s vision is to demonstrate God’s love by witnessing and by caring for others through education, inspiration and celebration. Jones said much of their focus has been on Ruskin Heights, a diverse lower middle-class neighborhood in the church’s backyard.
“Seventy percent of the households are single-parent situations,” Jones said. “Many have low self-esteem and little awareness or ambition to better their situation. We are dealing with a low literacy rate and a high crime rate.”
The best strategy they’ve found is to build relationships with people and then offer ministries designed to strengthen independence and improve self-worth.
“One Sunday a month we are offering free barbeques in the park where we can get to know families, learn about their lives and offer prayer support and a church home,” Jones said.
Then the church offers practical opportunities to not only meet the people’s immediate needs, but to equip them long-term.
“We have a monthly ministry called SkillShare where we feature training on things like gardening, couponing, changing brakes and tires, and much more,” Jones said.
He said the challenge right now is finding the resources to continue with the work they are doing.
“In a church mission field like this the resources simply aren’t there,” he said. “We’ve had a church partner with us in the past, and we need that kind of support again. You’re talking 300,000 to 400,000 people living in a 20-mile radius of our church. The need is there and I think if we could partner with someone we would have even more of an impact.”
But Jones knows he and The U Church are exactly where God wants them to be.
“I will have perfect peace if I am centered in Christ Jesus, and regardless of what it looks like we can keep going,” Jones said. “We cannot trust our senses, but trust the calling God has on our lives. You have to be true to your call, and, though you may never see results, deep within your heart you are bearing fruit. And with that I stand and keep pressing.”