MIFFLINTOWN Churches, groups and individuals seeking missions opportunities close to home may find what they're looking for with a project from the River Church in Mifflintown.
"We're opening the eyes of people to show them that there's need in the United States and you don't need a passport to do missions work," said Holly Lukens, one of two women organizing Hope and Restoration Ministries, a partnership with Victory Outreach Church near Kensington in the Philadelphia region.
Lukens and Renee Williamson are willing to help coordinate a relationship with other Christians seeking an outreach opportunity by allowing folks to travel with them to the streets of Kensington and share the Gospel.
Photo submitted by HOLLY LUKENS
River Church members and Victory Outreach Church members pray as another member ministers to a community member with an opiate addiction underneath a bridge in Kensington.
Victory Outreach International is a church whose premise is just that, Lukens said, "outreach." They have homes in inner city neighborhoods across the country and house recovering addicts both men and women while discipling them.
The northern Philadelphia homes currently hold nine women in one house and 15 men in another house.
Williamson first came across the missions opportunity in the summer of 2009. She had attended the streets of Kensington, rubbing elbows with dealers and prostitutes on a quarterly basis with another church group that existed at the time.
As Williamson became more involved with the River Church, she helped introduce the idea, and the church became aware of Pastor Joseph Bishop and the Victory Outreach family. The Mifflintown church has been traveling to the streets every month, bringing hot dogs and sharing hope and encouragement with those who pass by. They load up a van of about a dozen people and arrive at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. They spend time at the Victory Outreach Church for prayer, worship and Bible time. Then they head to the streets.
"There's so much hopelessness and despair," Williamson shared. A change is noticeable in volunteers who go on the day-long trips, she said. They realize the need that exists in this free nation.
"One woman (volunteer) said, 'I'm not in Kansas anymore.' There you are out in the open and it breaks your heart," Williamson said.
One young man asked the folks from River Church and Victory Outreach why they chose to come there. When Williamson presented the story of Jesus' ability to love people no matter their sin and that they desired to reflect that love all he could say was, "But we're the scum of the earth. You shouldn't be here."
These men and women are not the dangerous "thugs" many think about when they envision people lurking city streets; they are hurting people making poor and dangerous choices, the women said.
Those already living in homes sponsored by the church join the ministry on the street and help relate to those who merge through the group. The directors of the homes are recovered drug addicts.
When these recovering addicts find the love and compassion of the volunteers and accept Jesus as their savior, they present a change to their former friends on the streets.
Lukens shared an event that impacted her on one of the monthly visits. She met a woman who came off the streets the Monday before Lukens and the others arrived. It was a Saturday and the woman wanted to go out and share with others what she had experienced in the Victory Outreach housing.
"Another woman (from the street) came up to her and said , 'You look good.'" Lukens was amazed that with only six days of counsel she was willing to reply, "'It's not me. It's God.'"
Williamson added, "We are building relationships with these people with Victory Outreach. They are family to us, and they are so appreciative."
The River Church group of 11 men and women return to the area for a day on Dec. 8. Interested Christians are welcome to join them by contacting the church office. The church is also asking for gift card donations so they can purchase presents for the individuals in the homes.