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Taking it to the Streets – Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School


Story by Sam Belony
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From the October 2015 Columbia Union Visitor. Used by permission


The REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School opened June 7 in Philadelphia [Photo by Krystal Irrgang]

Union administrators team with Pastor Tara VinCross to start the REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School, where young adults are not only staying in the church, they are transforming it — as well as the many lives they touch through boots-on-the-ground ministry.
The unprecedented venture was born like so many God-inspired projects — thoughts planted in the minds of those seeking to be used by the Lord in ministry. This particular idea started developing in 2010 when Tara VinCross, then pastor of Pennsylvania Conference’s Chestnut Hill church, wrote a ministry development plan as part of her doctorate in ministry. She hoped it would result in an urban evangelism school in Philadelphia.
Unbeknownst to her, Columbia Union Conference leaders had hatched a similar idea and were also planning to launch an evangelism school. Eventually, the plans coalesced. “After completing my doctoral program, I thought, ‘Well, that’s the only piece that hasn’t been completed,’” VinCross recalls. Then one day, the union called to discuss a collaboration, and together in 2013 they formed a task force.
After much prayer, planning and seeking the Lord’s guidance, the REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School opened June 7 this past summer in Philadelphia. Now its first group of diverse young adults is gaining boots-on-the-ground, immersive experience in urban ministry and earning usable university credits.
Implementing Core Values
Restoration. Empowerment. Action. Community. Hope. These are the REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School’s five core values. During the 12-month program, young adults aged 18 to 35 receive hands-on experience in the areas of discipleship, community development and various other aspects of evangelism. The school has a formal partnership with Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md., where REACH students can earn up to 12 university credits for the classes.


  Kiersten Reed, Joshua Benito and Peland Pittman in Philadelphia [Photo by Krystal Irrgang]

REACH aims to imbue young people with the knowledge and experience they need to be effective, passionate, faithful leaders in their local churches. “My greatest desire is for young adults to experience transformation in their own lives, understand the gospel by experience, and learn how to be in a relationship with God and join Him in His work in the world,” says VinCross, who leads the program. By engaging students in canvassing, she hopes to teach them persistence, patience, professionalism, leadership and the skills to help others make godly decisions.
The program launched in June, when REACH students spent their first summer semester in the Columbus, Ohio, area doing evangelism work in partnership with Ohio Conference’s Eastwood church and Allegheny West Conference’s Central church. Dubbed “Mission Columbus,” students spent 10 weeks canvassing with local church members, knocking on more than 50,000 doors and distributing 6,978 books.
“The only way to have true success in reaching people is by drawing close to them and having a personal relationship,” says Justin Khoe, REACH evangelism coordinator. “In this program, [students] are going to get their hands dirty in the sense that they’re going to be out there doing the work rather than learning about how to do the work.” In the process, they reach people who would not be reached by other means of evangelism, and benefit local churches, conferences and the union.
As of August, REACH had 13 students enrolled for the first school year, which runs June to May with the goal of increasing enrollment to 16. There are 18 classes in the REACH curriculum, five of which offer three credits each, and cover a wide range of topics. “Jesus and the Gospels” offers an introductory study of the life and teachings of Christ through a close reading of the four canonical gospels and Ellen G. White’s The Desire of Ages. Other accredited courses include “Ministry in the City,” “Knowing and Sharing Christ” and “Theory & Practice of Urban Ministry.”
Non college-credited courses include “Adventist Beliefs,” which focuses on the centrality of Jesus in the Adventist Church; “Cycle of Transformational Evangelism,” which helps students understand biblical evangelism through the study of the agricultural cycle; “Communication, Relationship & Sexuality” and others.

“We try to make it a very hands-on curriculum,” Khoe adds. “It’s pretty much year-round laboring to make it a point that, whenever someone learns a concept in the classroom, they are also given the opportunity to apply it in the field, whether that’s through ministering by giving Bible study, by preaching, by reaching out to people in their homes or in a variety of different ways.”

Dave Weigley, Columbia Union Conference president, adds, “I believe this is a Godsend to have this school where young adults can experience sharing the gospel for two reasons: first, be drawn closer to Christ and, secondly, experience it where adults learn most effectively.”
VinCross expects students to transform into “young professionals who very much know who they are and are committed to Christ and to making a difference in their community.” And, she expects this to happen on an individual level. “It starts with one young adult having their heart and life changed by their own encounter with God—not just a fan for Jesus, where they come and sit and spectate every week, but someone who is a follower, who is completely committed,” she explains.

Sam Belony writes from Philadelphia.

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