Oklahoma City Mission Trip 2024 | Update #3

June 6, 2024 | Dugan Shelby

By Dugan Shelby 

Greetings from Oklahoma City.

We covet all prayers for this trip, so thank you to all for praying us through this.

Our morning started with Sarah Kovach sharing a powerful personal testimony about her experiences with addictions and homelessness.  She shared about the passing of her cousin Kinsey and the circumstances mirroring so many of the people that we encountered on Tuesday during our immersion experience.  There is much sadness there, not knowing whether or not Kinsey knew the Lord.  Her message and challenge to us was to change that narrative for people that we encounter, showing them the love of Christ and sharing the Gospel message.  The scripture from her message came from Isaiah 40:28-31, where we are reminded that God “…gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles…”.  It was a great challenger and reminder to start our day.

Our breakfast briefing started with Julie Chappel describing ministry partnerships that OKCity Center has and that we’d be splitting up into smaller groups and serving today.  Julie brought in Pastor Robert from Life Church, who helps with collaboration between OKCity and other ministry partners in the area.  Robert talked about how, post-pandemic, OKC has seen a rise in people living in the margins and an increase in dependency on state and federal services.  His convicting claim, which we all agreed with, was that the church has increasingly abrogated our responsibilities to state and federal government programs.  So he views the mission of the Body of Christ (churches everywhere) as being to start filling the needs of the poor.  Since no single church can do that, they’ve adopted a model intended to leverage resources beyond their own church walls.

Their model is to “outsource” mission work by partnering with like-minded organizations that are currently meeting needs well, rather than trying to “reinvent the wheel”.  He described their “church in action model” which focuses on discipleship, mission, and evangelism.  It’s intended to “connect people with mission”.   With that introduction, he described three of the mission partners that we’d be visiting, to learn more about their organizations and to serve them in practical ways.

The three organizations that we served today were:

  • Tulakes Food Pantry:  a food pantry that serves one of the highest crime rate communities in the city.
  • Heart & Home Makeovers:  helps families displaced from their homes by disasters or crises by providing reconstruction and makeover services.
  • Branch 15:  provides transitional living accommodations and critical care services for formerly incarcerated or traumatized women..

The Tulakes Food Pantry team met with the director, Konnie, who provided some history and background on the pantry.  The pantry is open once a week and serves 180 people, on average, per week.  Konnie put the team to work as personalized shoppers and car-loaders for the visitors.  All visitors were welcomed with love and dignity, without any kind of ID or prerequisites – just showing the love of Jesus through food distribution and even free medical care through an offsite clinic that was accessible via their Tulakes van.  Some of our team members also helped visitors to the pantry carry their groceries and load their cars.  The Tulakes team had personal relationships with many of the frequent visitors.  The team’s interactions with both visitors and staff were humbling, witnessing and participating in the deep relational fellowship.

The Heart and Home Makeover team was put to work with organizational and repair activities after receiving some background on the ministry, which provides 2 major renovations and various other smaller projects every month, to the recipients of its services.  Part of the team spent time writing personalized letters to the recipients, while others moved and organized beds and furniture (that was lightly used or donated new to the ministry) that would be used for the renovations.  The team also was put to work on a few service projects for the facility, including fixing a broken toilet.  The team absorbed a lot of organizational information about the ministry, as it is providing a service that is very similar to what the Vineyard Community Center will be providing starting this fall.

The Branch 15 team spent most of the time with the director, Steffanie Powell, who provided a tour and went into a fair amount of detail about their role in helping families (comprised of women released from incarceration or coming out of severe trauma situations, and their children).  It provides an opportunity for women, who (in Oklahoma) unfortunately experience the highest incarceration rate of any city in the US, for transitional living and reunification with children, rather than just leaving them to fend for themselves.  This is a critical need as these women have little-to-no means of providing a healthy home for themselves or their kids, often having no model of a healthy home, themselves.  The center that the team toured houses 8 families, however Branch 15 can house up to 42 families across sites within the city.  They house approximately 70 children.  This facility also offered an opportunity for the Vineyard Community Center team members to absorb organizational information, as this is a need observed in our community. After the tour, the team served the center by doing some painting, cleaning, and weeding projects.

After returning to the center, having lunch, and hanging out with the kids at the OKCity Center, we got to spend time hearing from McKenzie from the Spero Project, which is an organization that welcomes displaced refugees to the city, and helps them integrate into their new community.  The Spero Project was started by Brad Bandy in 2006, who saw the need to provide love and care to this often overlooked or ignored part of the community.  Driven by a desire to respond to our Biblical call to “treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you…” (Leviticus 19:34), the organization has recently grown to a staff of over 100, after receiving a federal grant.

McKenzie walked the team through the definition of a refugee, which is a specific and legal status met by a number of qualifications, including experiencing crises like civil wars or catastrophic damage to infrastructure, physically fleeing from their home country, and having to cross national borders, usually resulting in taking up residence in refugee camps.  These camps are set up in neighboring countries and provide the only respite from certain death.  That being said, the camps themselves provide only the bare minimum of living needs for individuals and families, that sometimes live the for decades since they cannot go back to their home countries, and are not part of the less than 1% that are fortunate enough to be placed in a new home country.

Sang Rem, previously a displaced refugee from Burma, herself, and now on staff with Spero, described her experience to the team in a unique way.  She had written a children’s book describing her journey from Burma to the United states, one that spanned several years of her life.  It was a gripping and emotional conversation with Sang, as she cried through much of her recollections of family and friends still left behind in an refugee camp.

The team ate dinner and dialoged with our friends from The Spero Project for the remainder of the evening before some down time.

We look forward to another interesting and exciting day of ministry tomorrow in OKC! 



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