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Mission connects inner city with Baptist volunteers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Parsons Avenue divides the extensive Southside neighborhood in Columbus into the haves and have-nots. Stowe Mission of Central Ohio is a place of hope situated right on the line.

“From our parking lot, you can see a house that is valued at $330,000 on the west side, and you turn around and see a house that sold for $5,000,” said Austin Hill, Stowe’s associate director. “In this ZIP code we have houses that sell for $2 million, but then we also had a week where 12 kids under the age of 18 were shot in this area.”

At this intersection of two worlds, three full-time employees and 750 volunteers a month serve the inner-city Columbus community to convey the Gospel through hunger relief, medical and dental services, homeless care and advocacy and community outreach such as tutoring and mentoring. It’s an effort that spans almost half a century, and it’s consistently growing.

Under the leadership of Michael Brooks, Stowe’s president, a church-supported, volunteer-led culture has developed that not only expands the scope and reach of the mission but also empowers laypeople to become leaders and creates a loyalty and ownership for the outreach.

“One of the reasons that Stowe and the Metro Columbus Baptist Association (MCBA) are so successful right now and our ministry footprint is growing is, MCBA has made the connection that the way to get people back into church is to demonstrate that Christians care,” Hill said. “It’s hard to argue with the fact that over 160,000 meals were served from our community kitchen and pantry in 2014.”

While Stowe Mission may sit on what may seem to be a dividing line, the ministry sees little difference in those who come through the doors to serve and those who come to be served.

“Poverty is not a lack of money. Poverty is a broken relationship. Whether it’s with family, life situation or God, everybody has broken relationships,” Hill said. “And that really is the way service is. It’s broken people coming together from very different walks of life and building a community around Jesus. That’s what we get to do here.”

Southern Baptists from around the nation had the opportunity to be introduced to the ministry taking place at Stowe Mission because of its involvement in identifying service opportunities for volunteers at Crossover Columbus, the annual outreach preceding each SBC annual meeting.

Two Southern Baptist entities stepped up to support the mission. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission donated an ultrasound machine to jump-start the new pregnancy medical clinic opening in the fall. At the Pastors’ Conference preceding the SBC annual meeting, an offering of $73,752.52 was received from attendees to aid in the build-out of the second floor of the Stowe building where the new clinic — along with other ministry initiatives — will be housed. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) matched those funds and added an additional $100,000 grant to support the project for a total contribution of $173,752.52.

“We’re going to be providing free pregnancy tests and ultrasound tests in addition to parenting classes and post-abortion Bible classes,” said Cindy Irizzary, the pregnancy medical clinic’s executive director. “What I hope and foresee for our clients is that because we have this connection with local churches through our volunteers, we will be able to then funnel them back into churches for discipleship.”

NAMB President Kevin Ezell said the Stowe Mission of Central Ohio is “a model for how Southern Baptists can meet the physical and spiritual needs of a community.”

“The Stowe team has done a tremendous job partnering with local churches and businesses,” Ezell said. “NAMB is happy to help them expand their pregnancy clinic and other vital ministries. I know thousands of lives will be impacted for Christ through these efforts.”

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  • K. Faith Morgan