Laborers For Christ

This Is What Happens When Light Invades Darkness

May 18, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Editor’s Note:

To celebrate the announcement of the 2018 Kaleidoscope Fund grant recipients, we are sharing the 2017 recipient’s stories over the next two months. See all 2017 stories here as they are published.

-LCEF Editorial Team

Living in America you don’t have to go far to participate in world missions. The world is at our doorstep. This is equally true in Grand Island, Neb.

Grand Island, not far from the geographic center of the U.S., is comprised of citizens from nations like Cuba, Sudan and eight Central and South American countries. Some are immigrants looking for an opportunity while others are refugees escaping persecution. They are attracted to Grand Island due to the abundance of labor opportunities in the meat packing, agriculture and medical sectors.

Like many cities with large immigrant and refugee populations, Grand Island is ethnically concentrated. Sadly, it also consists of mostly single parent homes, which means the parent is more than likely holding down three jobs to make ends meet. They are known as the working poor and are usually women. This leads to some alarming developments.

For example, the 250-unit West Park Plaza mobile home community is flooded with unsupervised children during the summer, leaving them vulnerable and exposed. In fact, Grand Island leads the state in human trafficking per capita in Nebraska and teen pregnancies are double the rate of the state average.

Peace Lutheran Church, Grand Island, however, is looking to circumvent these grim circumstances.

Put a cross on it

Since early 2000, Peace has had a dedicated team host a VBS in a neighboring mobile home park, Kingwood Estates. Eventually, the park manager saw the impact VBS was having on the residents and invited Peace to do something similar at West Park Plaza. That was back in 2014. Since then, not only have they hosted VBS programs at West Park each year, but in 2016 they started a weekly after-school mentoring program. The church’s ultimate intent is to place a full-time missionary in the community, establishing a daily presence with the residents.

For Rev. Dr. Luke Biggs, the approach is simple: “You get your foot in the water, then your leg and then you jump in the water.” He knows this from experience.

Prior to Peace, Biggs was the pastor at a North Texas congregation where he implemented a ministry in a high-risk apartment complex. The police told Biggs not to go into those apartments full of drugs, prostitution, crime and shootings. Biggs wasn’t persuaded. His church planted a missionary in the apartments and surrounded him with a supportive team.

“Core teams are your staples,” said Biggs. “So are your weekly, monthly and seasonal events leading up to the development of a weekly bible study.” A core team consists of eight to ten congregation members who’ve said, “I’m willing to invest more than just a monthly visit.”

It was a bold move that paid off.

At one point, “we had the police call us and say that they have gone months without any incidents,” Biggs said. “This is what happens when light invades darkness: darkness runs.” More importantly, the outreach resulted in multiple conversions into faithful relationships with Christ, including conversions from Islam and Buddhism.

Rachel Rathman, director of outreach and missions at Peace, said, “This is a great opportunity to care for people. Of course, there is some darkness and there is no Band-Aid you can put on this kind of thing. You have to put a cross on it.”

A central gathering place

In addition, the children who live in West Park Plaza do not have a safe play facility within walking distance of their homes. The park is surrounded by high traffic roads on one side and a tall, chain-link fence on the other. Moreover, the park lacks a central gathering place.

Peace proposed a way to fill those needs by installing a state-of-the-art playground. “A playground would serve the immediate needs of these children,” Rathmann said, “by providing them with a safe place to play within their community.”

She added, “It would also serve as a gathering area for the community, which will provide a location for Peace’s future on-site missionary to connect with families in the area.”

However, at nearly $40,000, the playground wasn’t cheap. This is where LCEF’s Kaleidoscope Fund helped.

The fund, established in 2016, aims to strengthen congregations, Lutheran schools, church workers and the communities they impact, reflecting LCEF’s mission to support the church in fulfilling its mission to share the Gospel. Peace, upon hearing about the fund, applied for a grant in mid-2017. And then prayed.

In November 2017, by God’s grace, Peace learned they would be receiving a grant.

A visible impact

While the grant covered the cost of design and materials, volunteers installed the equipment under the supervision of Omaha-based Crouch Recreation in April 2018. The playground is a major cause for celebration and a step in the right direction for Peace.

“Our goal,” Biggs said, “is for our church to actually rent one of the mobile homes.” He pointed out that it takes about 18 months to develop a missional community, yet the following story suggests they are already having an impact.

A Peace member who works as an English as a Second Language teacher relates a time when a student asked her if she knew about Jesus. She answered she did and asked the student: do you? Yes, the student replied. How? the teacher said. There are these people, the student said, who come into our community to bring us food and stay with us.

Moms have also approached Biggs, Rathman and other volunteers and said they are a good role model for their children.

“One of the nights we were out there during VBS,” Rathman said, “someone said you need to help and pray with this kid … it turned out to be a middle-school aged girl whose mother had been arrested … she said my mom’s not coming home and I’m by myself.”

This happens regularly, Rathman said, “so you can make a difference in a person when you are living life among them.”

It’s this sort of spirit and ministry that the Kaleidoscope Fund was created to support. Join us as we congratulate Peace Lutheran Church for loving on and pray God continues to bless their efforts to serve their community in the name of Christ.

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.