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Every Thursday night, a group of local teen girls gather at Urban Family Ministries (UFM) for an evening of fun and fellowship, playing games and studying the Bible together.
The Bible study, which began meeting in 2010, has played a vital role in the development of local girls’ lives. For many, it is the only place where they can connect with other Christians.
“I love Thursday nights at Urban Family,” said group participant Deshownna Kirkland. “We have a lot of fun together, and also we get to learn about God.”
The Bible study is led by UFM’s school enrichment coordinator Heidi Chinn and volunteers Melissa Kersjes and Linda Howorth. The leaders strive to create a welcoming atmosphere and to help the girls grow in their relationships with God and with each other.
People need a safe community where their story is welcomed, appreciated for what it is, and where they can be challenged to grow,” Chinn said. “We've become a family of sorts, a band of friends who want to learn more about God and His work in our lives.”
From a volunteering standpoint, the work being done at UFM is especially attractive to local college students. This opportunity helps college students who are passionate about youth development and urban ministry understand and relate to the urban community in Grand Rapids.
Those involved have found that they have just as much as to learn from the girls as they do to teach them.
“I first got involved with the Urban Family Bible study a year ago," said Calvin College junior Ellie Price, "and I’ve really enjoyed interacting with teen girls in Grand Rapids. Their experiences are so different from my own. It’s a joy to get to talk to them about life and to try to answer any questions they have about faith.”
Each meeting consists of dinner, discussion about a specific Bible verse and theme, and relationship building, both through organized games and unmediated hang out time.
According to Price, that free time together is crucial to the overall goal of the Bible study.
“The most meaningful time I spend with these girls is when we get to just talk about life, one on one,” she said. “The more time we spend like that, the better we know where everyone is coming from. It makes all of us more willing to open up during group time, to ask questions and see how God is working in our lives.”
The girls range in age from 13 to 17 and all attend different schools, but despite these differences, the girls have been able to bond and establish lasting friendships.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends that I would never have met otherwise,” Kirkland said. “We have a special relationship because we talk about deep things instead of just hanging out all the time.”
Many of the girls have been involved in UFM for years through other programs, especially its popular Super Saturday events.
Super Saturday, UFM’s outreach program for Grand Rapids children of all ages, meets weekly in the gymnasium of Calvary Church, 707 East Beltline. This program brings a large group together on Saturday nights for dinner, games, singing and worship.
The impact of Super Saturday on young children is evident through the continued participation of teens who began attending events in early elementary school. Being able to see the children grow in age and maturity, especially the young women she leads, has been one of the biggest rewards for Chinn.
“We first started because of the need to go deeper with our teen girls,” she said. “I hope we can see lasting effects of God's work in the lives of all involved in this ministry.”
In addition to the girls’ Thursday night Bible study and Super Saturday, UFM has ministries for teen boys, women in the neighborhood and families in the community. They also offer tutoring and mentoring programs for children, as well as opportunities for them to attend camp in the summer.
To find out more about UFM’s mission and volunteer opportunities, please visit urbanfamilyministries.org.