When Matt and Bev Hale moved to Detroit in 2003 to start an urban ministry, it was a completely different experience for them. “Our first few years were more unlearning than learning,” Matt says. “I didn’t realize how much I had taken certain aspects of my own culture to be part of the Gospel.” The Hales’ ministry centers around a community God built from the humble ground up.
As the Hales and the other residents live together in formerly foreclosed homes they’ve restored, sharing the everyday—meals, gardening, studying the Word, worshipping, discussing faith, and sharing struggles—Matt sees family being born. What started with Matt and Bev and one house grew to four houses where 23 diverse people live in intentional community in one of the most racially divided cities in America.
“Our community is a unique thing for Detroit,” Matt says. “There are few places you can go in Detroit that are not all black or all white. There is deep racial division in the metro area, and you feel it. And yet, Jesus is central to any form of reconciliation. As Scripture says, He destroys the dividing wall.”
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).
“We realized our strength was in relationships, and not necessarily in programs,” Matt says. “But we also realized some programs were really necessary for our community. It’s hard to sit in somebody’s house and share the Gospel when their lights are cut off and there’s no food in the fridge. The Gospel is true, and it’s the way to the Kingdom, but you can’t skip over those felt needs.”
When community resident ShaCha graduated from college, she chose to stay in her native Detroit. By joining the Hales’ community, ShaCha not only met her soon-to-be husband, she found an entire extended family.
“This community has loved me, rebuked me, served me, healed me, and walked beside me,” ShaCha says. “In this individualistic, shallow society, our dedication and love for one another often draws people craving something deeper.” Today, ShaCha runs a leadership program in public schools as well as a racial reconciliation consultation company.
Another community member, Nate, also sees this intentional community as a change-agent in his life. “Healthy Christian community is a reflection of God’s grace,” Nate says. “The Lord walks with us and loves us in spite of our sin. That same spirit is needed in community to continue to love one another when our faults are evident.”
Matt is careful to stress that community has deeper roots than any modern-day ministry. “Living in fellowship is nothing new,” Matt says. “It’s not a hip fad. It’s the oldest way people lived in Christianity.”
But today, perhaps more than any other time in human history, community attracts. Many are tired of culture’s false connectedness and self-focus, Matt says. “People in poor communities seem more aware that they need each other for survival,” Matt says, “that they need God for survival. Wealth gives us this illusion that we are not in need.”
Matt believes that when God builds ministries on foundations of genuine relationship, “thy Kingdom come” takes on invigorating meaning.
“Ministry with a heart for justice and societal transformation is at the core of the Gospel,” Matt says. “How many of the biblical promises we love are pulled from those amazing chapters in the last third of Isaiah? But what you find alongside those promises is God’s overwhelming desire for a just Kingdom. If our Calling as Navigators is ‘To advance the Gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom . . . ,’ this is the kind of Kingdom we’re working toward.”
I do agree that ministries built of positive community relationship fosters a deeper connection to the Gospel of Jesus. That’s why for me, a community that enables programs like camps and retreats for the youth is so important. It’s also always a good idea to find facilities that understand this philosophy.
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