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Hands-On Mission Work Group invites teams to serve Detroit


Action arm of Presbytery of Detroit focuses on shelter, food, education and health

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

A Hands-On Mission Work Group from Missouri partnered with Broadstreet Presbyterian Church to build an outdoor stage on the west side of Detroit. After the stage was completed, the group hosted a concert and barbecue for the community. (Photo by J. Michael Barconey)

LOUISVILLE — While sitting in a committee meeting in 2004, Tom Neal asked, “How do we help all our churches get involved in mission?” Since no formal system was in place within the Presbytery of Detroit at that time, he and others worked to create the Hands-On Mission Work Group (HOMWG).

Over the past 15 years, HOMWG has partnered with churches, schools, organizations and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to bring mission groups in and send them out, Neal said. “We sent groups 16 times in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

Detroit has many needs, Neal said. “Poverty is a ‘disaster’ and several homes are still in need of basement repairs after the flood in 2014.”

Mission groups from around the country come to serve in Detroit in the summer or alternative-break weeks during the year, Neal said. More than a dozen churches within the presbytery offer housing and hospitality for short-term mission work groups. Groups complete work projects in areas of shelter, food, education and health.

“In the food area, last year 45 churches in the presbytery volunteered to grow tomato plants and take the tomatoes to local food pantries,” Neal said. “Families learn to cook efficiently and economically through Cooking Matters, a nutrition education program that operates in partnership with Gleaners Community Food Bank.

“We partnered with Life Remodeled (which invests about $5 million in cash, labor and materials into one Detroit neighborhood each year) to renovate 30 homes in a neighborhood and transform a school into a community-based center,” Neal said. “We work with Rebuilding Together, a nationwide organization that helps low-income homeowners, Habitat for Humanity and the Motor City Blight Busters, a nonprofit committed to transforming neighborhoods on the city’s west side.”

“Work groups are the hands and feet of Jesus,” said J. Michael Barconey, coordinator of Hands-On Mission for the Presbytery of Detroit. “Our goal is to develop our relationship with God and complete the mission that God has called us to do.”

Barconey represented the presbytery as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit. The same year, he was the recipient of the Edler G. Hawkins Award for lifetime achievement, presented by the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.

“The DNA of service is in our genes,” he said. “I love coordinating the groups and working with them as they serve.” One group, he said, partnered with Broadstreet Presbyterian Church to build an outdoor stage on the west side of Detroit, then held a concert and barbecue for the community.

A bag-luncheon ministry distributes a sack lunch to everyone they encounter who is hungry, while offering the opportunity for a moment of prayer, Barconey said. He tells the volunteers to ask the person their name, so they can continue to pray for them.

Health fairs, held in the summer, are supported by the Synod of the Covenant’s Mobile Health Van and team. These fairs provide the opportunity for people to see a doctor or dentist. Many do not otherwise have the resources to do so.

Tutoring programs at Presbyterian churches in Detroit help children improve academically. (Photo by J. Michael Barconey)

Broadstreet Presbyterian, Calvin East Presbyterian and Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian churches work with incoming mission groups on tutoring programs to improve the literacy and academic performance of students in kindergarten through grade 8. At Broadstreet each Saturday afternoon as many as 50 young people come to the church for tutoring in all their classes, a healthy meal, homework assistance, an opportunity to work on laptop computers.

“Opportunities to serve include urban gardening, blight removal, building and remodeling, handicap ramp installation, food and clothing programs, health fairs, vacation Bible school, art camps, summer camps and more,” Barconey said. “We work with group team leaders to customize service projects to match the skills and interests of participants prior to arrival.”

While assessing properties, Barconey found six homes that needed porches built. One group came and built one porch, which leaves five still waiting for help, he said.

After a short-term mission experience in Detroit, a participant from Missouri reflected on the people and their spirit: “The pride of the city and the hope of those living there is truly inspirational. As Christians, we know that God sends people to answer prayers. There have been other trips in which I feel like I’ve been appreciated, but the people of Detroit take gratitude to an entirely new level. I truly feel it is because they knew that we were sent there by God. They knew we were the answer to some of their prayers and that God had called us to do this work for them. Their understanding and gratitude of us being there helped us to understand that we were doing God’s work. In return, the people of Detroit ended up blessing me and answering my prayers in many ways.”

The Presbytery of Detroit has produced a short video about Hands-On Mission to inspire churches to connect with community partners through transformational mission.

For more information about mission work group opportunities in Detroit, contact J. Michael Barconey, coordinator, Hands-on Mission for the Presbytery of Detroit at 313-903-6609. For additional mission resources, visit or contact Stephanie Caudill, mission associate, Presbyterian World Mission, at 800-728-7228, ext. 5279.

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