On October 30th, twenty-three Providence students met for the service Avodah to learn about the East Los Angeles branch of a missions agency called Servant Partners that seeks to plant churches amongst the urban poor and partner with them in transforming their communities.
After driving approximately half an hour to the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles, students met with Katherine Lai, Director of Short-Term Internships, and Sara Stephens, former missionary in Bangkok, Thailand, to learn about the mission of Servant Partners and the organization’s branches all across the world.
Sara Stephens shared her experience as a missionary with Servant Partners in Bangkok, Thailand for five years. In her presentation, she shared the five core values of Servant Partners – incarnation (living among the urban poor), servanthood (leading through service), making disciples (inviting people to follow Jesus), transformation (partnering with God in healing the effects of sin), and justice (working for kingdom justice) – along with examples of what these values looked like in the mission field. Stephens also shared the two key ministry strategies of Servant Partners: planting reproducible, holistic churches and empowering the people to sustain and organize their communities by working together and building strong relationships with each other.
Stephens opened the presentation up for questions during which students asked about the challenges of living in a foreign country for an extended time period, ways of reaching the people with the Gospel, and the culture shock of both being completely immersed in the culture of Thailand and also the shock of returning to the United States.
In response to Stephens’ presentation, freshman Mayra Martinez said that she was struck by the way missionaries who go into foreign countries need to depend on God completely. She was impressed by the way in which Servant Partner missionaries get rid of preconceived notions of culture and live among the people. Along those lines, Marissa Branson, also a freshman, reflected that she loves how the organization goes to live with people in slums because it shows that they care about the people just as Christ had compassion on the poor and crippled.
Wrapping up the discussion time, Lai summarized the Servant Partners mission as helping the poor and bringing them the Good News, but also training others to go out and do likewise. To learn more about Servant Partners missions, internships, and community activities, check out their website or email Katherine Lai.
Students were then given an hour to walk down the street and check out a few of the local small businesses and buy lunch. Lai encouraged the students to interact with the business owners and make observations.
When students returned, they had the opportunity to hear from Caesar Aguirre, the junior varsity football coach at Lincoln High School and a member of the church Servant Partners established in Lincoln Heights. Aguirre shared his experiences growing up in Lincoln Heights and the challenges his family faced and overcame.
IntheCity, a nonprofit organization, is also an outreach program that Aguirre is involved in and he summarized its mission as transforming the lives of those in East L.A. and building strong relationships with people in the community. He explained that IntheCity can serve the community in areas a church related organization would not be allowed such as public schools. IntheCity seeks to raise up leaders in Lincoln High School and the general community. They improve the lives of students by giving them opportunities to succeed.
One of the ways this is accomplished is through Mission 3.0 where Lincoln Heights football players are encouraged to aim for a 3.0 GPA and have the opportunity to receive tutoring to achieve this goal. As of now, there are six tutors, but IntheCity welcomes anyone to volunteer Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday for one hour through the end of December. To learn more about IntheCity and how to volunteer, check out their website or contact Caesar Aguirre.
Before students packed up to travel back to campus, they helped clean and organize the Servant Partners’ building and ended with a word of prayer. This Avodah gave students an opportunity to learn about a local service organization and reflect on what they learned.