Cedarville Students Shine a Light in the Inner City

by Carol Lee '96 — Marketing

Collin Barrett '11 and Melody Fisher '13 are two of many Cedarville students who continued their education over spring break — outside the classroom.

Where did you spend your spring break?

Collin: I served as a student leader for a team of eight students with Urban Hope Training Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Urban Hope serves its neighborhood children, and through them reaches families.

Melody: I went with a team of 12 students to Syracuse, New York. Rescue Mission is a Christian organization that strives to meet the practical needs of the poor through biblically based services. The mission primarily serves men and provides housing, food, clothes, and other resources.

What were your first impressions?

Collin: Brent, one of the directors at the training center, welcomed us to Philly and shared his testimony with us. He is, simply put, a walking product of God's power in reconciliation. At a young age, Brent became caught up with the things of this world. The Redeemer of souls softened his heart, though, and brought him into His saving arms. Now, nearly a decade after accepting Jesus into his life, Brent's fire for people remains ever-burning. God forgive me for losing hope in those who seem too far from the truth to be brought into the fold.

Melody : Our team met up at the lunchroom and just sat and talked with the men. We played bingo with them, and later that evening, after some of us served dinner, we had a mini-birthday celebration. It was a great opportunity to get to know the men and meet them at their own level. Whether they were just down on their luck or had a mental illness, each of them has a pride and joy. For one man, it was his dolphin collection; for another, it was the ability to play his guitar with his tongue.

Describe a typical day.

Collin: We painted, sanded, dry-walled, laid wall base, laid tile, cleaned out the maintenance garage, and cleaned trash out of the nearby streets. It was such a blessing to be able to serve the church, its members, and ultimately Christ by fixing up the facilities God has entrusted to their ministry. Another highlight of the week was simply loving on kids. We were part of both the church's after-school mentorship program, Cornerstone, as well as the Boys and Girls Club at the local elementary school.

Melody : We went to the day center where the men hang out during the day and began transforming it. We cleaned, primed, and painted the walls. The mission runs several thrift stores, and we spent a day organizing clothes, taking apart shelves, and finding interesting articles of clothing. Some of us served dinner, and then we all went over to the chapel for a simple service where a few of our team members led worship. Almost every evening, several of us went driving around in a van looking for homeless people. We gave them a sack dinner and just talked to them.

Who did you meet that you will never forget?

Collin: I met a man nicknamed "YeeHaw." Vernon, his real name, is originally from Bermuda, though now he is homeless in Philadelphia. Though YeeHaw has his sinful struggles, like the rest of us, it is evident he is striving his hardest after Christ. He was recently offered a pastoral position, including compensation and a house, which he turned down! He sees his current situation as his calling to minister to the homeless as a homeless man himself. YeeHaw has nothing but one duffle bag of clothes, but he has an overabundance of joy in his Savior. God used Vernon to challenge my entire priority system.

Melody : I noticed a man I had seen at every meal. I don't know how to describe him except to say that he could be the poster-child for homelessness. He looked so sad and desolate, always eating alone and never saying anything. My heart broke for him as I wondered what his story was.

How did this experience change your thinking about ministry or your role in it?

Collin: Through my experience with the church community at Urban Hope, God is re-shaping my worldview of what the Church should look like. Nearly all members of Urban Hope live within a few blocks from the church building. Spending just a week in this setting gave me such a sweet taste of what the Church should be like and a peek into what eternity holds for those who know Christ.

Melody : There are an estimated 1.6 million homeless people in America. Many of them suffer from addictions and mental illness, poverty is generational, and most of the homeless have a long history of broken relationships. Volunteering is a great, practical way to make a difference. Please pray for the staff members and employees of Rescue Mission as they have a hard job that is thankless at times. Please continue in prayer for men and women all over the world without a roof over their heads or food in their stomachs.

How will this experience influence the rest of your college experience?

Collin: One primary focus all week was strengthening our ability to build relationships. As Christ-followers, we should be the friendliest people on planet earth! How often do I find myself not even making eye contact with people as I pass them on the street or wait in line behind them at lunch. Everybody likes to talk; everybody is seeking answers. God forgive me for being too focused on my own meaningless agenda to care for people.

Melody : This week was such a blessing as well as a huge culture shock. I realized just how isolated and sheltered my life has been. My family has never had much in the way of material possessions, but we were rich compared to a lot of the mission's clients. These men aren't focused on what brand their clothes are or even if they're in style. They are so grateful for the littlest things. It's amazing to me how something as simple as a smile can make their whole day. Even now, as I'm lying in my bed writing on my laptop, warm and cozy, I can't help but feel spoiled. I've worked for most everything I have, but how much of it do I really need? Not very much. I'm trying to learn to live simply.

What will you take with you the rest of your life?

Collin: The harvest in the city is so ripe. People are searching for hope and answers. Where are the believers to tell them? Though I am still seeking His will, I really think God wants to use me to be an ambassador for Him in an urban setting when I graduate.

Melody : As we talked with these men and listened to their stories, my heart broke over and over again. They weren't always homeless; some even had college degrees. It hit me just how close we all are to being in the same situation. I have never felt such a yearning as I do now to help those less fortunate than me in any way that I can. I want to always be this on fire.