Ryan House | Program Coordinator, Elementary and Middle School Boys Group Leader

I never planned on staying in Lynchburg. 

Like many high school students, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. When I started college in Indiana, I officially declared my major as “undecided”.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to do something that would make an impact on other people. 

One day, in a chapel service, a speaker came who worked with a ministry in inner-city Chicago. The message he shared touched my heart and started to stir in me an interest in urban ministry. I started working as a camp counselor at a summer camp that worked with kids from Detroit and it was there that I knew for sure that I wanted to work with urban youth. 

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I didn’t know what that would mean for a major or career, but I knew it was what I wanted to spend my life doing. I transferred to Liberty University and majored in youth ministry, with the plan of moving to a major US city after I graduated. I didn’t perceive Lynchburg as a place that had a need for urban ministry. After graduation I moved to Detroit for a year, but to be closer to family during a difficult time, I found myself back in Lynchburg for what I thought would be a year or two. 

I used to be of the mindset that the way to make the biggest impact was to reach the largest number of people. In order to do that, I thought I should go somewhere where “the greatest need” was. In my mind, this meant a major metropolitan area, like Detroit, Chicago or Baltimore. But as I studied the Gospels, particularly the Book of John, (my personal favorite book of the Bible), I was greatly impacted by the fact that Jesus spent most of his focused time pouring into a small number of people. While he preached to the masses, he spent much of his time pouring into 12 people, and then 3 people on an even deeper level. It’s from those relationships that the church grew, and believers today can trace their spiritual heritage to this fact. This was a big realization for me. I started wondering what it would look like if every believer, regardless of where they lived or worked, was intentional about trying to disciple two or three people. 

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Wanting to do something with youth on a volunteer basis for what I thought would be a short time in Lynchburg, I started volunteering with UMA in November of 2013. I quickly came to look forward to Wednesday nights as the highlight of my week and loved being able to build relationships with the same kids week to week. As I got to know the founders and the staff at UMA, I loved their philosophy of ministry. While many organizations try to draw large numbers of kids to outreach events and programs, (I do think there’s a place for that), UMA chose to focus on one community and to be faithful with the relationships forged there, “going deeper, before wider.”

I also loved that the staff had chosen to live their lives alongside the people they served. All of UMA’s staff lives in the neighborhood, which allows us to build relationships on a deeper, more personal level. The intentional living, the depth of relationships, and simplicity of trying to reach our neighbors was something that became very attractive to me. In 2016, I was seriously considering moving to Tampa, FL and starting to make plans to do so. However, as I prepared to move and leave behind my friends and family, the thing that I found hardest to leave was the kids. I remember watching our group participate in a team-building activity and thinking of how far I’d seen them come over the past few years and feeling sad to leave that group behind. I started considering what it might look like to go full-time with UMA and joined the staff in 2017. 

I never planned on staying in Lynchburg, but I’m glad I did. Through UMA, God gave me a heart for this city and showed me there was a need here — there’s a need everywhere. My philosophy of ministry has shifted and become less about programs and more about relationships. I’ve come to realize that it’s not about where you live, but how you live. Whether that’s the city, suburbs or Smalltown, USA, you can be intentional and love your neighbors. 

I care about these kids and want a lot of things for them. Most of the things I want for them are out of my control and always will be. I want them to know Jesus, but can’t make them believe. I want them to break cycles and live successful lives pursuing something that they love. It’s not always that simple. I want them to be heathy, but can’t control their choices. The one thing I can control is showing Christ’s love to them.

Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity. -C.S. Lewis 

The neighborhood is interesting. There are people who’ve lived here for generations, but it’s also very transient. I’m keenly aware that some of the kids will move away. So when it comes to teaching and mentoring, there’s the ideal of what we can build on over the years, and also the sense of urgency of what can I give the kids, if they are only here for a short time. 

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The things I want kids to leave with more than anything are two-fold:

1.    To leave feeling loved by our leaders—loved in a way that is different from the world. I believe that the kids see this love, which is why they keep coming back each week. My desire is that the kids leave our group knowing that the leaders at UMA who love them follow Christ, with the hope that they’ll someday connect the two together. I want them to know that God loves them unconditionally. Everything else, important as it may seem, pales in comparison.

2.    That we will meet kids where they are. Most youth programs are very structured and by default if a kid doesn’t fit within the structure, then they can’t remain in the program. Often this is necessary, but it’s not ideal. By being here in the neighborhood, we have a unique ability to meet kids where they are at and work with them. We are flexible and trust that God will use each time with the kids, even when our best-laid plans don’t turn out like we thought they would. 

Throughout the Gospels, there are many examples of Jesus meeting people where they are at— the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Zacchaeus. But the ultimate example is the person of Jesus Himself. God’s solution to restoring humanity into a right relationship with Him was to become part of humanity Himself, the ultimate example of “intentional living”.

Thank you for your support and for reading this blog! We would love to hear your WHY! Why do you love UMA? Why do you give, serve, follow, or volunteer? Help us celebrate our 10 year anniversary by tagging @urbanmoutainadventures in you “MY WHY” on Facebook or Instagram! If we can get enough we would love to put together a compilation video!

If you enjoyed this story, would you consider giving to continue our ministry? $300 a year or $25 a month provides one underserved youth with adventure trips, summer camp, weekly mentoring and more! You can give towards our $20,000 fundraiser here!