By Sarah Howard
HLG Public Relations
Houston, Texas – It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Brianna Ribble is walking among rows of metal folding chairs, talking with others who have come to a mid-week worship service. But this is no ordinary church.
Bundled up against record-low temperatures, Ribble, a Hannibal-LaGrange (HLG) education major, is standing on a parking lot in downtown Houston, Texas, where hundreds of the homeless, along with local volunteers, are munching on donated snacks while they wait for the service to begin. She is serving at Montrose Street Reach (a partnership between Joe Williams Ministries and Youth With A Mission) during a week-long mission trip to Houston, along with seven other students from HLG.
Evening ministry with Houston’s homeless population was one of a myriad of community ministries where the team served others, learned about ministry, and shared the love of Christ Jan. 2-9.
“I wasn’t really eased into it,” said Ribble. “It was full-forced, full-fledged. We went to them, and I’ve never experienced anything like that. It really opened my eyes to the need that’s out there.”
Ernmardia Crowder, a senior Christian education major from St. Louis, also walked away with new eyes for the needs around her. “I came into this not knowing what to expect,” said Crowder. “But, I came away with an even deeper knowledge of the Lord’s compassion and mercy that he has for people from all walks of life.”
During the week, the team spent their mornings serving at the food pantry and clothes closet of Houston’s First Baptist Church. While there, the team had more opportunities to meet people in the community who were weighted down with various physical and spiritual needs. Crowder was one of several team members who acted as a “personal shopper” for visitors to the clothes closet as they selected items free-of-charge for their family members.
“[They are] people that don’t have much,” said Crowder. “I loved hearing their stories and being able to sit and love them with a few words or a touch, treating them like normal people, and getting to pray with them as we talked about the Lord.”
Crowder helped one man who spoke little English, and he was nervous about picking out clothes for his wife. Through broken Spanish and lots of smiles, Crowder helped him feel at ease as she assisted him in finding a selection of clothes offered from community donations.
While at the food pantry, the team also helped sort donations of clothing and food. Working with the long-term staff and volunteers offered ample time for conversations about God and ministry. The students learned much about how to minister effectively to both physical and spiritual needs from those who have been bringing help to needy communities for years.
“Seeing the glory being given to God through [the long-term volunteers] has just amazed me with how much they love God and are willing to serve Him without pay,” said Kevin Campbell, a senior from Troy.
Most afternoons during the week, the team served alongside a pastor in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, one of the roughest in the city. His church has started several innovative initiatives in a desire to bring Christ to the community. One major project is an after-school program taking place in several neighborhood apartment complexes. The HLG team helped prepare for the new semester by promoting the programs, talking with interested families, and registering the children.
“I think that the importance of going on a mission trip is for things like this,” said Crowder. “We got to see it. If we stay at home, we might not always take the leap, but if we are out of our comfort zone and hear of an opportunity to serve, it shows us things that we can bring back home.”
“Back at school you just get in a stride and go, and you tend to overlook and pass others,” said Campbell. “I tend to look past the hurts and needs of others, and I think that’s very selfish of me.”
For Ribble, her experiences in Houston were some of the first where she was met face-to-face with homelessness and poverty. “Most people don’t ever think about it,” she said. “I didn’t.”
By the end of the week, many of the team’s conversations revolved around how they could implement lessons learned to bring transformation in their community in Hannibal, and since the trip several team members have met together to make plans for community ministries in their surrounding neighborhoods.
“People are people. The only thing that separates us is that I have a walk with Jesus, and they might not know Him,” said Crowder. “It weighed on my heart, but it was a good burden. Doing ministry there affirmed that ministry is something that I can’t not do.”
Student team members included Brianna Ribble, Ernmardia Crowder, Amanda Smith, Kevin Campbell, Alysa Askew, Bethany Gorman, Neil Sneed, and Katie Goldstein. For more information on missions projects at HLG, contact the HLG Missions Office at 573-629-3195 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.