Alliance News Feed – Pressing into the Dark

Valleyview Alliance Church in Vestal, New York, was searching for a way to expand its ministry to the least reached in their community. At about the same time, Johnson City Alliance Church was in danger of shutting down.

Without this congregation, the majority religion of the Middle East would have been the only influence in Johnson City. In addition, 43 percent of the large population of children in this area live below the poverty line, and most fathers are absentee.

“God impressed upon the hearts of the members of both congregations that He did not want to lose the light of the gospel within this already poor urban community,” says Pastor Arnie Buehler, associate pastor at Valleyview Alliance Church.

Answering the Call

A volunteer helps children at The Bridge perform a science experiment. (Photo courtesy of the author)

In 2014, after many conversations and prayers, the two churches merged to form The Bridge Community Center. They began with a prayer walk to ask God how He wanted them to serve. Sensing God was calling them to reach out to the children, they started a free four-week summer camp. By the end of those four weeks, 60 children were in attendance.

Since then, the community center has held this camp annually, and past campers have become some of the counselors.

The Bridge has also held an after-school program since fall 2014. An average of 60 children on Tuesday and Thursday nights receive homework help, food, and a safe place to be after school. Many of the kids have started coming to church with some of the leaders, which has led their families to attend as well.

It Takes a Village

Children at The Bridge celebrate being drama-free for 15 days with pizza and ice cream. (Photo courtesy of the author)

To establish this ministry, the volunteers from Valleyview Alliance have had to persevere. They gave up their evenings and Saturdays to love children who verbally attack, threaten, and mock them while doing the same to their peers. In the beginning, Arnie felt like he was breaking up fights every day.

Fortunately, the volunteers have not had to do this alone. The local school received a community grant and used some of it to donate $3,000 for snacks, $1,000 for board games, and five laptops for the community center’s new computer lab. When the children went 15 days without any fights, the local pizza place donated pizzas for the students to celebrate achieving this goal.

Often, a police officer stops by at The Bridge in uniform to play with the children and show them that law enforcement is on their side. The police station also recently used a $500 grant to purchase basketballs for the kids. “It’s been a community effort for the ministry to become what it is today,” Arnie says.

Developing a Servant’s Heart

The Bridge’s Wednesday night youth group (Photo courtesy of the author)

The same has been true for the salvation and discipleship of one young man named Shakeam. Arnie met Shakeam in 2015 when he would drop off his younger siblings and cousins at the annual summer camp. A few months later he started attending the youth group hosted at The Bridge Wednesday nights, and volunteers picked him up for church on Sunday mornings.

In summer 2016, Valleyview Alliance Church paid for Shakeam and seven other students from the community center to attend the local district camp. On the last night, during a bonfire, Shakeam surrendered his life to Christ. Since that day, he has been active in the church and volunteers at The Bridge.

“Shakeam has one of the best servant hearts I have ever seen, as there is nothing he will not help you do,” Arnie says. “He is always looking for opportunities to serve in our ministry.”

Shakeam regularly talks with Arnie about spiritual matters, but many other church members also invest in his spiritual journey. “Shakeam still has a long way to go in his discipleship, but it has become a church-wide endeavor to help him on his journey,” Arnie says. Shakeam attends an adult Sunday school class, and an elder and his wife take Shakeam to dinner every Thursday night to go through a discipleship book with him.

“Valleyview Alliance has chosen to stand in faith with God and be instrumental in shining the light of Christ,” Arnie says. “It is our responsibility to help push back the darkness in a community where no other church is pressing into the dark at all.”

Source: Alliance News Feed – Pressing into the Dark

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