My apartment is my mission field

By Lee Kemp 

{ Apartment life ministry is a big ministry. Ninety-five percent of people living in multi-housing have been disconnected from the local church. If you survey apartments, they don’t have a sense of community; it’s just their social behavior. They live here because it’s affordable and convenient, not because they want to make friends. }

We’ve done lots of things for the kids in this complex—like swimming lessons and ballet classes—to get to know kids, which has allowed us to get to know families.

 swimming lessons 2013When I first met Becky she was yelling at her kids at the pool. She needed to be watching her kids, but she was drunk and mad that they had spent the last bit of change for a soda because she couldn’t buy alcohol. We helped her kids get out of the pool.

 After that I started seeing Becky around the complex and just got to know her. At one point she asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” She knew we didn’t fit the socio-economic model. So I told her I started a church in Fort Smith and that I felt should live here. She laughed, but now she’s accepted Christ, been baptized and discipled!

{ “Who are you? Why are you here?” She knew we didn’t fit the socio-economic model. }

Becky’s a single mom struggling to make ends meet, so Forefront gave her a car. This has helped her get out of the complex and into nicer housing. I just saw her the other night and learned that she’s helping another church in our city as a VBS volunteer.

That is a search-and-rescue for the Kingdom!

Elisha's kids, car
Becky’s kids in the car Forefront provided

 

If I didn’t live at the complex, then I wouldn’t have been swimming at the pool with Becky’s kids, and I wouldn’t have met her. If I hadn’t continued to live there, then she wouldn’t have been able to watch me. That’s how she realized I was a safe person. The Gospel came later.

The apartment culture

Apartment life ministry is a big ministry. Ninety-five percent of people living in multi-housing have been disconnected from the local church. If you survey apartments, they don’t have a sense of community; it’s just their social behavior. They live here because it’s affordable and convenient, not because they want to make friends.

Just by nature it’s obvious who is selling drugs. I started to realize there are people who have really nice stuff but never go to work and who have lots of visitors. The apartment manager and I also have this open relationship, and he has told me about people to watch because he is trying to create a positive place to live.

 I’ve taken the ministry approach and just try to get to know them. I’ve gone out and introduced myself to runners while doing laundry or just being out and around. If I find out that so-and-so has a felony and several drug charges, sure I’ll watch them, but I want to get to know them. My ministry isn’t to judge people, it’s to know people.

Still, I usually see someone five or six times before I introduce myself. That’s how I do it, anyway. If I try to be some spiritual Johnny-boy running for president then they won’t trust me.

{ My ministry isn’t to judge people, it’s to know people.}

Bridging the barriers

This one guy in the apartment ministry, Joel, is white like me. He has asked me, “Why don’t they like me?” and I’ve had to tell him, “Joel you’re acting too white. You talk slower and louder and you speak overly proper. You need to relax and just look at how they say hi, then go and do likewise.”

It’s a cross-cultural training. The barrier isn’t just ethnicity. We are missionaries! And there are missions to be done in our own city, in our own state. Some people just don’t know how to say hello.

This is how we train our church members and why we do what we do. If I’m not willing to drive by my neighbor and smile and wave at them in my own vehicle—not a church van—then our church will only be exactly like me. All I’m going to do is reach people like me. Which is not the point.

Paul says you become all things to all people so that you can reach them (1 Corinthians 9:22). I can’t become all things to all people, but I have to be willing to go be with them.

I need to be so close to these people that I know their concerns and fears about their community: that their kid will be just like them, will be kidnapped or not get an education.

What are their concerns? If I’m not close to them, then I don’t know.

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