Last week, while at our Mack Avenue Community Church/Hope Community Church SpringHill Day camp, I ran into former summer staffers Kristen VanderPlas-Selle and Jessica Concannon. I’m always encouraged to hear what God’s doing in and through our SpringHill “alumni” and last week was no different. After graduating from college and finishing their summer careers at SpringHill these two women made decisions to continue to serve and minister to kids.
Kristen (summers 05-08) leads Mack Avenue’s after school literary program (click here to read about one of her students). She and her husband Scott (another SpringHill alum) live right in the heart of 48214 zip code – one of Detroit’s most economically devastated neighborhoods. Their willingness to become part of this community and to serve its residents is having a powerful and lasting impact on the lives of young people and their families.
Jessica (summers 05-10) has been a teacher for two years in a brand new Christian school, Tree of Life, which serves urban students from Kalamazoo, MI. Tree of Life’s mission is educate “all children regardless of their socio-economic situation. Tree of Life celebrates the diversity of the body of Christ and equips children to serve God, people, and creation to their fullest potential.” Jess has taught in a small, multiple grade class which has allowed her the opportunity to build strong relationships with her students and their families, opening the door for further ministry outside the class room.
Both Kristen and Jessica told me that their summers at SpringHill were influential in their decisions to work in these important communities and to serve these kids and their families. I’m thankful for Kristen (and Scott) and Jess for their commitment to bring Christ’s Kingdom to all people, and humbled by the small part SpringHill played in their decisions to do so.
Gregory and Genesis are best friends who both live in the 48214 zip code of Detroit. It’s one of the poorest, most economically devastated zip codes in Detroit, thus in the country. It was here, in their neighborhood, that I meet Gregory and Genesis this past week while they attended our Mack Avenue Community Church/Hope Community Church Day Camp.
Gregory has just finished 2nd grade, and thanks to the Mack Avenue’s after school literacy program, Gregory is now reading at grade level. Which means, if Gregory continues to build on this new gift, he’ll not only improve his educational and vocational opportunities, but he’ll be able to make the reading of God’s Word a regular part of his life, both of which will be life transforming for him and his family.
At the beginning of the week Genesis shared with his counselor that since he was 4 years old he had been a bad boy and was always getting into trouble. But then he accept Jesus as his Savior and since then he’s changed, doing good things and not bad. His counselor said, over the week, that Genesis became like another counselor in his group. He provided leadership and insightful input during their small group times.
When I asked Genesis his favorite part of Day Camp he responded by saying “I really like the water slide and the climbing wall but my favorite thing is our worship time.” Then I asked Genesis what he learned this week. He told me “I learned about Jacob and Esau. About how Jacob stole Esau’s blessing and then had to run away because Esau wanted to kill him. But after a long time, Jacob came back and he and Esau made up.”
With the continued follow-up and discipleship of Mack Avenue Community Church and Hope Community Church, and some more SpringHill Experiences sprinkled in over the years, I can envision a bright future for these young boys, and hope for the 48214 zip code.
First I had the opportunity to reconnect with Cameron Underdown who’s the high school and college director for Kensington’s Orion/Rochester campus. Cameron’s playing a key role in a significant ministry. Talking with him reminded me of the part SpringHill play’s in the spiritual, personal and professional development of college age people.
Later that day while touring with Eric Russ I had the opportunity to talk with Kristen VanderPlas Selle. Kristen and her husband Scott live in one of the poorest communities in Detroit (and thus in the country) where they’re both involved in the Mack Avenue Community Church family. In particular Kristen leads Mack Avenue Community Church’s literary and tutoring program designed to serve the young children of the Mack Avenue neighborhood. As I watched Kristen working with some of the students I couldn’t help feeling a bit of pride knowing that a SpringHill alumnus is serving the “least of these” in this way.
These two friends represent the literally thousands of SpringHill alumni who’ve committed their lives to the service of others and to expanding Christ’s Kingdom. We, at SpringHill, pray every summer that God would use us to help our summer staff and campers grow in their faith as well as to develop as people and leaders who’ll make a difference in Christ’s Kingdom.
So “pastor day” had a second blessing – to see our prayer answered in two SpringHill alumni.
My wife Denise called Tuesday my “pastor day” because I had the opportunity to hang out in metro Detroit with three dear friends who are also inspiring pastors and incredible leaders – Terry Prisk, Steve Andrews and Eric Russ.
My first stop was with Terry Prisk, a long time SpringHill partner and leader of The River Community Church. Terry and I meet every few months to share, challenge and encourage each other in our respected leadership positions. As usually happens we exchanged books we’re each reading knowing we’ll discuss their respected contents the next time we’re together.
Next I had the opportunity to have coffee with Steve Andrews from Kensington Community Church. Steve’s a former SpringHill board member and current member of our strategic planning team. In these roles, as he did once again in our time together, Steve’s spoken into my life by challenging me to think big about SpringHill and its place in God’s Kingdom.
I ended my day near downtown Detroit with Eric Russ, a current SpringHill board member, who leads Mack Avenue Community Church. Eric and I spent our time together riding in the “Mack Truck”, an old pickup truck used by the church. We toured the neighborhood where his church ministers. I’m inspired every time I’m with Eric but never more than when I see the community, people and work he’s committed his life too.
As I drove home from Detroit I thought to myself “what a great day”. I also thanked God for each of these men and the significant impact they’ve made on both SpringHill and on me. In my final thought of the day I searched for answers to this question “how can SpringHill and I better support them and their churches in the incredibly important work they do in the communities they serve?”
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.