Detroit recently became the largest city in the U.S. to ever declare bankruptcy. It is no secret that the financial struggles of the once great Motor City are crushing. A simple Internet search for Detroit will populate hundreds of news articles highlighting the woes of the city: financial mismanagement, poverty and crime.
It is important to note that there is much more to the story than meets the news-reading eye. Residents of Detroit and its metropolitan area are not standing passively aside waiting for the world to intervene. Local pride runs deep, and men and women of every race, religion, political party and social class are rising up to impart change from the inside out.
The crisis in Detroit is binding many local churches together. “Church” in Detroit is becoming more than what building you drive to on the weekend for songs and sermons. Instead, many churches are establishing a coalition for the purpose of moving to the front lines of Detroit in its hour of need. The unification of Detroit’s Christians is a powerful force in bringing true hope built upon the Gospel to the city.
Pastor Bob Shirock of Oak Pointe Church longs to see the Detroit area radically impacted by Christ. His passion led him to begin conversations with other Detroit church leaders in order to establish a strategy that would give every citizen in Detroit and its metropolitan area—nearly 3.5 million people—the opportunity to hear the message of the Gospel. This vision launched Everyone A Chance to Hear, or E.A.C.H.
E.A.C.H. held its first prayer rally in January of 2011 with a gathering of 1,800 people. In April 2011, 28,000 Christians from more than 500 churches participated in a prayer walk through Detroit. Such prayer rallies have continued over the last several years, breaking down barriers and creating unity among believers. E.A.C.H. strives “to make a statement to a watching world: Detroit is rebuilding, and Jesus is the foundation of its comeback.” In addition to regular community prayer events, E.A.C.H. partners with various ministries reaching out to meet community needs.
One ministry supported by E.A.C.H. is Life Remodeled, a nonprofit organization committed to reshaping Detroit one family and one neighborhood at a time. Several years ago, Chris Lambert began contemplating how the Church could have greater impact on the city. In 2010, Lambert and a team of visionaries launched Life Remodeled in order to provide new homes for low-income families, and then to equip those families to sustain their lives after construction is completed. Families are given brand new homes for free and also provided with intensive financial training, a financial counselor who will coach them for three years, family counseling for up to four months and optional spiritual counseling. In July and August 2013, Life Remodeled is building one brand new home, remodeling 24 others, and beautifying 48 city blocks.
Life Remodeled is volunteer intensive. While the ministry is faith-focused, it is an open opportunity for all people in the area, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation to get involved in the rebirth and restoration of Detroit. When asked what he thought would bring about change in Detroit, Lambert said, “The way forward is for Christ-followers to be like Jesus and to do the things Jesus did; to focus on discipleship, be like Him in our character, act like Him in our skills. Through that, people take notice and want to see Jesus and want to be a part of what Jesus is doing if we can show them how.” Life Remodeled is not only meeting needs for families and communities, but it is also providing a practical means for Christians to work alongside of non-Christians for the sake of a common goal.
Another supporter of Life Remodeled is Evangel Ministries of Detroit. The goal of Evangel is simple: to be a church that evangelizes the world by equipping Christians, enriching families and empowering communities beginning in Detroit, and then extending into the rest of the world. Hundreds of initiatives within the church exist for the purpose of being servants to the Detroit area. By administering opportunities for theological education through the Detroit Bible Institute, Evangel Ministries is poised as the premier church in the city that is providing quality Christian education to impact the community. Evangel also seeks to empower neighborhoods through benevolence and combatting poverty.
Once immediate needs are met for individuals, Evangel seeks to provide counsel, and position people to transition from dependency to a sustained life as employed citizens. To accomplish this feat, Evangel partners with various businesses including banks, local attorneys, CPA’s and entrepreneurs. Evangel Ministries’ Pastor Aaron Richardson says, “[The people of Detroit] are hurting. They need hope. They want hope. The reality is that people are looking for Jesus, and are looking for people to selflessly demonstrate the love of God. Our city has been ravaged, but is primed to receive the power of God.” Evangel is intentionally reaching out to serve the city’s people, and to empower them to stand again.
Another organization seeking to aid hurting people is Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation, or CDC. CDC is a faith-based organization that is committed to educating, equipping and empowering the central Detroit community. Founded in 1993 by local churches, CDC uses an approach that meets needs within the community while simultaneously equipping individuals and families to unlearn dependency on handouts and freebies. Goods and services require some level of commitment from the beneficiary, be it a nominal $2 for a backpack of school supplies or a parent committing their time to some degree in order for their son or daughter to be involved in the youth programs. Executive Director Lisa Johanon states, “People appreciate what they pay for. They are more responsible with what costs them something.” By using principles of personal responsibility and ownership while also meeting dire needs of the city, CDC is acting as an agent of change from the inside out.
Historically, it has been in the seasons of crisis that God has wrought redemption. In the middle of Detroit’s dark hour, God is moving His people to the proverbial trenches to engage a broken city for healing and rebuilding. Detroit Christians are uniting to be catalysts of real change. Though the world’s news will say that Detroit has fallen, the promise of resurrection speaks. Detroit is not hopeless. Its hope is in its citizens rising up to the occasion and seeking authentic change one person at a time.
Haley lives in the metro-Detroit area with her husband and son. She is a learner, writer, church staff member and Christ-follower. In addition to her freelance work, Haley also maintains her blog.