Our Church in Mission
‘God used them to fix me’
Seattle-area church’s bold outreach to at-risk youth transforms lives and the community.
Picking up a basketball changed Brent Christie’s life.Twelve years ago, the former hospitality industry executive walked away from his dream job at a hotel company with no idea of what he would do next.
“I was going to start another business, when I was introduced during worship to the witness of a student at Eastside Academy, a last-chance, alternative high school for at-risk youth,” says Christie, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington, known as BelPres. “I sat in the pew and thought, ‘That’s something I can do; I can fix those kids.’"
Christie says that on that particular Sunday, rather than “sitting at church, consuming ministry, and then typically going home,” he instead went into a room after the service to learn about becoming a mentor at the school. Christie soon volunteered to lead a group of students on an upcoming waterskiing trip. When the appointed date arrived, it was a typical, rainy Seattle day.
“Brent just picked up a basketball, and they started to play,” says Scott Dudley, pastor at BelPres. “By the end of that time, he just decided to form this basketball team, and that’s where Jesus really started to shape him. . . . He began to really love these kids, and these kids loved him.”
The fledgling basketball team became an opportunity for the students—many of whom had lost the chance to play sports when they were expelled from their previous high schools—to take pride in something.
Christie says that as he watched “broken lives coming to life around a basketball court,” he also found himself changed. “God took over my life from that point. When I said I was going to fix these kids, God used them to fix me.”
Dudley calls Christie one of his “Exhibit A’s.”
“Brent went to church, but he wasn’t much captured by it until he saw these kids transformed and their lives begin to change through the power of Jesus’ love,” Dudley says. “That began to change him, and he got hooked. He wanted more and more and more.”
And Dudley says that Christie wasn’t alone. “More and more what I felt God and this church wanted to do was to turn outward to the community.”
That momentum has grown ever since. The congregation’s Jubilee Service Day, which began in August 2005 with some 900 church volunteers cleaning, power washing, setting up classrooms, and doing minor repairs, continues today as an annual event with over 1,500 volunteers from more than 30 congregations serving all of the elementary schools in Bellevue. And in 2006 they founded Jubilee REACH, a nonprofit led by Christie, which serves Bellevue’s at-risk children and families through 39 programs ranging from community gardening to ESL to Bible study to before- and after-school care. By taking the time to love, listen, and learn from school principals, counselors, and local government officials, they were able to identify the deeper needs of children and families.
Reaching a population of 4,128 students, Jubilee REACH site coaches serve as shepherds in the school buildings—facilitating sports teams, improving students’ test scores, and transforming the culture within schools.
Anissa Bereano, principal of Highland Middle School, says she’s particularly grateful to Jubilee REACH for achieving such “staggering results” in improving student test scores. Most remarkably, Highland students who qualify for free or reduced lunch went from a 46 percent pass rate in reading to a 70.6 percent pass rate.
“A big part of what drives me in terms of the church’s outward focus is that it’s a nonnegotiable in Scripture, and we Presbyterians really need it,” says Dudley. “Part of what Jesus is saying is, ‘If you want to find me, serve.’"
Emily Enders Odom
The Presbyterian Mission Agency has made it its goal to educate 100,001 children by 2020. To learn more: pcusa.org/poverty-alleviation
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Use the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, published annually and packed with stories and mission information as well as daily prayers and lectionary readings. Order the book, read selections online or subscribe to receive entries by email or podcast: visit the Mission Yearbook website