The Christian Center: The Ministry A Mile Away
Exactly one mile away from the campus of Anderson University, there rests a building and an organization that is changing the lives in the city of Anderson. The battered building resides downtown, easily missed while busy people drive through. Yet this forgotten structure is, for many, a place called home.
The Christian Center is a hub for community partners and organizations to alleviate the strain of hunger, homelessness, and hurt. Their mission is to “nurture the souls of the individuals who need us, regardless of past decisions.”
According to the 2016 Social Science Study, there were 564,708 homeless people living in the United States. Nearly 15 percent of the homeless population from that study was considered to be chronically homeless. Social Solutions defines chronic homelessness as, “an individual who has a disability and has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, and/or an individual who has a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years (must be a cumulative of 12 months).” The Christian Center strives to end this growing crisis and to “communicate and demonstrate the forgiveness, acceptance, and growth that Christ offers all his followers” by offering many different programs for those in need.
Anderson University not only noticed this growing crisis years ago, but realized that many of the individuals included in this growing number were located close to home. AU students soon got involved with the Christian Center; specifically, the Men’s Program ministry.
The program was created to promote both spiritual and emotional wholeness for men struggling in the community. The course of the program ranges from 18-24 months and provides resources for substance abuse, work therapy, group Bible studies, chapel services, spiritual guidance, anger management classes, financial education, basic interpersonal skills training, and more.
AU students volunteer at the Men’s Program every Friday night. They arrive at 4:30 p.m. to serve food and eat alongside the residents, and around 7 p.m. they play games and talk awhile before returning to campus by 8 p.m.
Sophomore Elijah Neal, the student leader of the Christian Center campus ministry, first got involved with the Christian Center during his freshman year of college after hearing from current volunteers about their positive experience. “When you go, you feel so refreshed, and loved and empowered,” Neal said joyfully. At the end of last year, he felt God putting it on his heart to lead the ministry this year.
Junior Charis Grubbs knew she wanted to serve a campus ministry in some way and after hearing her friends talk about their experiences with the Christian Center, gave it a try. Grubbs started volunteering her sophomore year and has been a part of the ministry ever since. “Sometimes it is difficult to have the energy to go at the end of a busy week,” she said. “But each time I go, I feel so refreshed and even more energized from being there with the people.”
The Christian Center is often misunderstood in their purpose. “A lot of people at the Christian Center aren't there because they have nowhere else to go,” Grubbs explained. “A lot of them use it as a place to stay while they try to get on their feet. The food is good, they get good health coverage, a place to sleep, etc. Each story is different, some of the guys stay for months and others for just one meal.”
As with any volunteer experience, there can be challenging moments. “Starting a conversation can definitely be tough and even draining sometimes,” Grubbs said. “It's hard to get to a place where you find something in common with a person. Some of the guys love to share their stories and talk to the volunteers, some of them want to be left alone. It's hard not to take that personally or get discouraged, but I know that I am there to serve, so if that means giving some of them space then that is what I do.”
Both Grubbs and Neal have made lasting friendships with both the ministry staff and those they have served. “My good friend, Dave, was a radio personality for most of his life,” Grubbs recalled with a smile. “He met George Harrison from the Beatles, was practically famous when he worked in Oklahoma City...People would come up to him and be like, ‘Hey you're Dave from the radio show.’ He was near the Pentagon on 9/11. He has the most interesting life of anyone I've ever known.”
Neal said his friend, Keeshaun, has made a large impression in his life. Neal makes a point to sit with Keeshaun every Friday night and even visits him throughout the week. The Christian Center ministry has even helped raised money for Keeshaun to go back and forth between Anderson and home to see his family.
“I think the homeless population can be misunderstood, so being around them really helped me understand that a majority of them worked really hard their whole lives and faced some sort of tragedy that caused a setback,” Grubbs explained. “The men there are incredible; I know so much more about what true community is from serving at the Christian Center.”
So who benefits the most from this ministry? Neal says that he does.
“I don’t understand how it happens,” says Neal. “We go there to serve because it’s not about us, but at the end of the day, I get so much more out of it than anybody else does. I get loved, I get to hear these stories, and make these friends.”
The Christian Center is not only changing the lives of their residents, but impacting the lives of its volunteers. The small tattered building on Main Street is reviving an entire population of people and touching anyone who comes into contact with it.
“You’re not going to spend time with the homeless, you’re not going to spend time with people who need help,” said Neal. “You’re going to build relationships and meet new friends.”
Lindsay Stone is a senior studying journalism and international relations. She is writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of Marketing and Communication, through the Advanced Feature and Magazine Writing class.
Anderson University is a private, liberal arts institution in Anderson, Indiana with a mission to educate students for lives of faith and service in the church and society. Anderson University is recognized among top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, Colleges of Distinction, and The Princeton Review. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, the university now offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music education, and theology.News School of Theology Student Life