The dream of the UP-LA has always been to see the work extend beyond the bounds of LA County. Athletes in Action at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, recently held the first Urban Project-Columbus during their spring break. Students from OSU, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Marshall, Ohio, Kentucky, Wittenburg, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wright State came together for a week of learning and serving in Inner-City Columbus.
The Project even had a special guest from Los Angeles. Ramiro Caldera, serves at the Compton Salvation Army in Compton, CA, one of the UP-LA’s long-term ministry sites. He made the cross-country trip to continue to learn about God’s heart for the city and to share of his experiences growing up and working in Compton. During the Project, the students and staff stayed at Thompson Park Recreation Center located in the Short North of Inner-city Columbus.
Jamie Borchik, AIA Campus Staff at OSU and the Project Director, had this to say post-Project:
“Often when we talk about issues of evil, suffering, and justice, we do so from a distance. We talk about those things out there, somewhere in the hypothetical, theoretical realm, that might someday come close but for now are safely at bay. Last week, on the first annual Urban Project Columbus, we had no such luxury. As our group of around 30 students lived and served in the heart of urban Columbus, issues of evil, suffering, and justice drew very near.
Over the course of the week, our group twice had some of our stuff stolen, twice had young children of people closely connected to the Project die suddenly, twice had some of our stuff stolen, and had one student get stalked by a man from the community. All this in the midst of serving in some of the most needy neighborhoods in the city of Columbus and witnessing poverty and injustice all around us. And coinciding with an earthquake and tsunami in Japan and political unrest in the Middle East. The first (hopefully) annual Urban Project Columbus was marked by difficult circumstances.
And while I never would have (nor could have) scripted such events to happen during the Project, I do believe that God is sovereign and that he used the hard things that happened to teach our group very real lessons about the brokenness of this world. One of the core components of the Gospel is that sin is real and that the world and people are deeply broken as a result. On the Project we witnessed firsthand the realities of sin and brokenness. As a result, the beauty of the Gospel and the healing that Jesus alone can bring became all the more precious.
The vision of the Urban Project Columbus is to equip students to address issues of spiritual and physical poverty in the world. In large part because of the very real encounters the students had with evil and suffering, they saw up close the desperate need the world around us has for the hope of the Gospel, and they saw the need for men and women like them to invest their lives in bringing that hope to communities of need.
A story to close: On Wednesday night of the Project we did a prayer tour of the city of Columbus. We visited the neighborhoods where the students lived and worked all week and met with community leaders to hear about how we can best pray for each community. To finish the tour we took Broad Street out of Columbus to Bexley. Bexley is the first suburb east of Columbus and has an average income of $300,000 per year. In Bexley we stopped at the Governor's Mansion, a huge house on a beautiful street with lots of other huge houses. We then turned onto Main Street and drove back toward downtown. When we crossed an an railroad bridge, the scenery changed dramatically.
Literally on the other side of the tracks the income drops to $15-18,000 per year. You leave suburbia and enter what looks almost like a war zone. Some streets have more abandoned homes than inhabited ones. We drove down Main Street observing the dramatic change all the way to downtown Columbus. In downtown, along the very same street, you come to million dollar high-rises and the center of influence and power in the state of Ohio. We got out of our cars and walked to the front of the State Capital.
And at the capital we asked, "What will you do?" Most of the students will one day work in places like downtown Columbus, in positions of influence, with more resources available to them than most of the rest of the world. And just two miles away will be desperate physical poverty. So what will you do about the physical poverty? How will you live differently in light of the realities you encountered this week?
And we asked what will you do about the spiritual poverty? Because much of the physical poverty along Main Street continues to exist because of the spiritual poverty in downtown. We live in a world in need of the Gospel, in need of the truth of Jesus as the only source of reconciliation between us and God and us and each other.
This is the vision of the Urban Project Columbus: that students will use whatever platform God gives them to address the spiritual poverty in downtown so as to transform hearts with the Gospel and ultimately see God create leaders who will then also address the physical poverty on Main Street. Will you pray with me that the 30-some students who participated in the inaugural Urban Project Columbus will be instruments of Gospel spreading wherever they go for the rest of their lives?”