By Sarah Sprague
“And a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6 (NEB)
A homeless man knocked on the door of Metro Baptist Church to ask for a drink. Ronnie Adams, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, unlocked the door and, with the help of Katie Hillhouse, a fourth-grader from Boulevard Baptist Church, delivered a glass of water to the thirsty man.
Katie, along with fifth-graders Malena Gardiner and Paul Stoddard, worked alongside seventeen others from Anderson, S.C., during its annual September visit to Metro Baptist Church in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, where BBC members have partnered with Ronnie Adams for 11 years.
Metro Baptist Church is “a Christian community where all are welcome regardless of gender, age, sexual identity, ethnicity, social standing, education or economic status.” Members believe that “everyone is created by God in the likeness of God to be a full participant in God’s redemptive plan.”
This year, Boulevard’s visit coincided with some of the hottest days of summer. Sleeping on the fourth floor of the church with little air conditioning, team members experienced one of the characteristics that led to the neighborhood’s name. According to one story of the origin of the name, a policeman who was watching a street fight declared, “This neighborhood’s as hot as hell.” A fellow officer replied: “Hell is cool. This here’s Hell’s kitchen.”
When asked if she liked living in the one-hundred-year-old church, Katie confessed: “I didn’t really enjoy this, but I was glad I got to experience what a homeless person experienced on a hot day with no air conditioning.”
“Mr. Ronnie” Adams has been CBF field personnel at Metro Baptist for 21 years. Some of his responsibilities include the winter clothes closet, the Teen Center, the food pantry and CLUE Camp. For the HIV/AIDS ministry, he leads groups at three different locations, visits them in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers and even performs memorial services for some.
According to Katie, Malena and Paul, “Mr. Ronnie” is “fun,” “super” and “sweet,” as well as “a good person” and a “great preacher,” which they concluded from his daily devotions for the group. “Mr. Ronnie” is the official missionary, but the three children felt like missionaries too.
“I liked that our church [Boulevard Baptist] was gathering all together to help homeless people,” Malena commented.
Paul went with “Mr. Ronnie” to a meal for homeless men with HIV. Since these men, from AIDS service centers, rarely have an opportunity to eat at a restaurant, BBC began hosting them in 2010 at Dallas BBQ on 42nd Street, near Times Square. Paul felt like a missionary “when we went out to eat with those five guys.” Sitting near one in a wheelchair, Paul joined in the conversation. One of the men, Jeremy (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy) even gave Paul advice: “Work hard in school. Listen to your parents.”
The three children helped with the food pantry, which serves 800 each month.
“I loved working in the food pantry,” declared Katie.
Boulevard members aided guests in selecting fresh bread, canned goods and even produce — lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs — grown on the church’s rooftop garden. A part of Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, this ministry depends on volunteers who gather for farm workdays on Thursdays and Saturdays to plant, weed, water and pick the rooftop vegetables.
The little missionaries also filled 130 snack bags with granola bars and nuts to give out when someone hungry knocks at the door of the church. “I was excited to see the kids’ faces when we gave them the bags,” Malena commented. She was disappointed, however, with part of the experience.
“We didn’t have enough snack bags for some people who were waiting out there. It just made me sad to see their faces and to know they were hungry,” she confessed. “I want more people to go [on the trip to Metro Baptist Church] so that we can pack more snack packs and supplies for the homeless.”
The annual School Supply Store was a favorite with the children. While Katie and Malena prepared and served lemonade and cookies to those shopping, Paul arranged the binders, rulers, glue, erasers, scissors and other supplies collected by the team. When the school store ministry was first begun, free supplies were given out — parents did not come. Now parents pay a small amount, 15 cents for notebook paper or 25 cents for a pack of crayons.
This year 35 families with 76 children, ranging from pre-K to high school, enjoyed refreshments and shopped for supplies.
Katie was four years old when she began helping her mother, Mary Beth, also a member of this year’s team, shop for school supplies in Anderson to send to New York for the Metro Baptist School Supply Store. When asked how Katie had benefited from this mission experience, Mary Beth shared, “I wanted her to see the larger picture. Sometimes a child doesn’t know what happens to the items that she collects for missions. On this trip Katie could actually meet the people she was helping and see their smiles and be God’s presence there.”
Paul’s mother, Allison Stoddard, also a team member, says the experience was an “eye opener” with many firsts for her son: seeing homeless people in the street, a fight in the subway, hungry individuals and children with no school supplies.
Mariana Gardiner, team member and mother of Malena, considers it her responsibility as a parent to expose her child to other realities of the world.
“Hands on projects shape another side of their personalities. It’s teaching them to be generous, to be compassionate,” stated Mariana. She valued the experience in New York City missions as “one that can be brought home and applied to our local community. Things begin to click for the child. I was very grateful we had that opportunity.”
Now that she’s home, Katie realizes how lucky she is to have a home and to have food.
Was the experience at Metro Baptist Church better than playing video games? Yes! Would the children recommend it to their best friends? Yes! Do Katie, Malena and Paul want to go again? “Yes,” they quickly responded in unison. “It was awesome.”
“I want to go back to do more missionary stuff,” added Katie.
Sarah Sprague serves on the PR/Media Committee at Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C.