This 'ministry adventure' began relatively innocently and naively! A summer mission project to the inner city neighborhood called the Hill, via a youth soccer camp, in the summer of 2007, was simply meant to be a missions opportunity for two churches seeking to develop their congregations. However, as the week of camp progressed it was quickly realized that something unique was happening in peoples lives and that there was a responsibility to respond to the movement of God. Building on the friendships of that year, it was decided to continue to reach out to the Hill community for the next two summers. The neighborhood's response to this investment of prayer, resources, time, and people were nothing short of 'jaw dropping surprise' as the camp grow from 50 kids the first year to nearly 75 children the third year.
Following the amazing response by both children and parents, with prayerful consideration, it was time to begin to test the waters and see if the Lord had prepared the soil to plant a church in the Hill community. At the camp's closing ceremony, with nearly 30 parents and 65 kids in attendance, we asked them what they would think about the idea of developing something more long term, where we could learn about and love the Lord Jesus together. The response was simply 'ear splitting' as the crowd shouted that they wanted what they had experienced to continue. That was our cue from the Lord! On the surface, considering the level of enthusiasm that night, it looked as if this church plant was going to explode into existence with great fanfare.
However, as we began to meet for bible study, prayer, and fellowship, we quickly were given a 'window into the reality' of what it meant to be poor and living in the 'hood' of New Haven. God used this initial 11 months to take off our 'rose-tinted glasses' so that we might see 'the reality'. What we saw was staggering:
- 24% of people in the Hill live below the national poverty level, 4th highest in the country per capita (primarily African-Americans & Latinos).
- 65% of families in the Hill are made up of single parent/guardian homes. The nuclear family is entirely devastated in our inner cities. The level of Fatherless homes is at a pandemic level. As a result, we have children living in destructive chaos, confusion, without the spiritual and emotional tools to navigate their worlds.
- 27.4% of high school age kids drop out before they graduate. School performance is abysmal at best. The results are kids who are trying hard but are extremely distracted and undisciplined due to their home lives. Thus, these children are experiencing another level of shame due to failure, hopelessness because they don't have the resources to overcome their educational gaps, and powerlessness because they often feel that they are having to tackle these obstacles alone.
- Due to these issues, many of the Hill's youth are easily wooed into the life of gangs and drug trafficking to help them cope with the anger, loneliness, and confusion that they feel. This then paves the way for senseless violence and permiscuous behavior.
- New Haven rated #4 in the U.S. for murder rate for 2011 (per capita), while at the same time having some of the highest levels of HIV infection and addictions to very dangerous narcotics.
To sum it up, the Hill neighborhood resembled the 'Wild West'. It was here that we were called to establish a 'beachhead' of ministry; to plant a worshiping community called Christ Presbyterian Church in the Hill.