By Fred Koenig
Kingdom House wants volunteers that come to the agency to take home more than pictures and memories. They would like them to gain some insight.
Kingdom House provides a wide range of social services to people living in poverty in St. Louis. The Urban Forum is Kingdom House’s innovative new approach to having people go deeper in their inner-city mission work. The agency has acquired a house directly across the street so volunteers can be part of the neighborhood for their stay.
“We’re trying to shift how we do mission trips from an ‘in and out’ experience to something more sustainable,” said Director of Volunteer Management & Service Learning Kenneth Pruitt. The experience is now designed to offer a mix of service work, discussion, teaching and prayer.
Outfitted with bunk beds, the three story historic brick house can accommodate groups of about a 15-30 people.
“We have three trained staff members to handle all group sizes,” Pruitt said.
The purchase of the house was funded in part by Salem UMC in St. Louis, a local church that has a close relationship with Kingdom house.
“We help a lot of different groups in St. Louis, but Kingdom House is our primary focus,” said Rev. Adam Caldwell, associate pastor at Salem UMC.
About 10 years ago Salem UMC tithed on their capital campaign to Kingdom House, which helped the organization develop their pre-school program into what it is today. Salem UMC sends regular teams to Kingdom House to do mission work, and pulls together special teams when needed.
Salem UMC also has a close relationship with Costa Rica, and has been sending mission teams there for 10 years. Recently those two missional focuses came together, as Salem UMC sponsored a Volunteers In Mission team from Costa Rica to come to Kingdom House for the first week of October, staying at the house established for mission teams. The team consisted of seven couples, and one baby.
“This gives us focus on how we can do mission,” said Douglas Mejias. “We’ve learned a lot about mercy and justice ministries. We have much new knowledge that we can take back home and adapt to what we are doing.”
The Costa Rican team was selected by the Costa Rica VIM coordinator Wil Bailey, with emphasis being placed on people from different parts of the country, so what they learned could be spread over a wide area.
It was the second time Baily had brought a group to the Missouri Conference. A few years ago his group was hosted by First UMC Blue Springs, and they worked at Grand Avenue Temple.
One day during their week in St. Louis Pruitt led the group of Costa Ricans on a walking tour around the neighborhood, explaining how it is an economically diverse area, with high-end loft apartments in the old city hospital, surrounded by HUD housing. The HUD housing is fairly new and in good repair, giving the neighborhood an appearance of stability. Some people there still have their struggles, though.
“A few years ago we met a family here who had two girls, the oldest was five, and they had never had a bed to sleep in,” Pruitt said.
The pilot year for the Urban Forum was 2013, and most of the visiting groups stayed at the AmeriCorps building in Soulard. The group from Costa Rica was the first group to ever use the house across the street from Kingdom House during their stay.
Kingdom House is busy with volunteers through the summer months, with people coming from all across Missouri and neighboring states. More than half are from United Methodist Churches. “We would like to fill the calendar the rest of the year,” Pruitt said.
For more on Kingdom House and the Urban Forum, go to www.kingdomhouse.org.