When Matt Maxwell and his wife, Kellie, moved their family to Atlanta to lead urban youth ministry for Atlanta Navs last year, God had already given them many opportunities to invest their lives in some of America’s most broken communities. Wherever they went, God seemed to place hurting children in their path.
“The brokenness in these lives started to stir something in us,” Matt says. “There was no one looking out for these kids. Some would just come over because they were hungry. We started doing Bible studies with them. They loved learning about Jesus. Some of them were committing their lives to Christ. We realized this was what God was asking us to give our lives to.”
Then the invitation came to check out Navs ministry in inner-city Atlanta. They drove through Atlanta’s English Avenue neighborhood, dubbed the fifth most dangerous place in America.
“Within five hours of being here, I looked over at my wife and she had tears streaming down her face,” Matt says. “It was like our whole life flashed before our eyes. It felt like everything we’d walked through was preparing us for this.”
For Matt, one of the most exciting aspects of Atlanta Navs’ urban ministry is OAKS Atlanta, an afterschool program modeled after Isaiah 61. Geared toward K-12 urban youth, this program uses tutoring, Bible studies, and life-on-life mentoring to make a difference in the lives of at-risk kids.
“These kids come from really tough backgrounds and fatherless homes,” Matt says. “But God has given us a vision that they are going to be the ones that restore, rebuild, and renew the cities that have been devastated for generations, as described in Isaiah.”
Matt recently brought 13 youth from OAKS Atlanta to attend Camp Grace, an independent, Gospel-centered summer camp for urban youth.
“Camp Grace heard about The Navigators ministry with urban youth in Atlanta and welcomed us to bring a group to camp,” Matt says. “I’m so glad we did. It was an extremely fruitful experience for the youth, and nine of them gave their lives to Jesus Christ. All have expressed a desire to have someone disciple them.”
Peace Preparatory Academy, a new inner-city school which opened this fall in English Avenue, is another exciting initiative. Founding principal and English Avenue resident Benjamin Wills, Atlanta Navs City director and Peace Prep board chair Matt Letourneau, and Matt Maxwell, are partnering to provide afterschool services for the first kindergarten class to walk through the school’s doors this fall.
These programs will help students apply what they study in the classroom through experiential learning. The goal is to disciple and to invest in these kids through high school and even into adulthood.
“The message to these kids is usually to ‘get out if you can,’ but then the community is left with no leaders,” Matt says. “Our desire is to really give these young people God’s vision to be planted in their community.”