Published October 2, 2019 in Summit Magazine
My Experience Serving with Mission Scranton
The sun is beginning to set on Valley View Terrace, a low-income, subsidized housing community in South Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m sitting at a picnic table, and in front of me, children of all ages and ethnicities are playing at the playground. Some boys are participating in a wild game of kickball; girls draw with chalk on the sidewalk, while younger children take turns on the monkey bars and play tag.
This is a typical Monday evening for Mission Scranton, a nonprofit organization that has organized a weekly ministry for children and teens in this community for over 25 years.
My first day at this ministry was in 2017, when I was just entering my senior year of college at Clarks Summit University. I remember being very fearful as I entered this community for the first time. To a small-town Iowa girl, this urban experience was out of my comfort zone. Within five minutes of being at Valley View, I remember a small brown hand slipping into mine. A 5-year-old girl smiled up at me: “Hi! My name’s Alexa! Do you want to play with me?” I felt love swelling in my heart for this community I didn’t even know yet, and I knew God was confirming my call to missions and my burden for the lost. That moment changed my life, and my perspective on ministry, forever.
Instead of building the next after-school program or providing a Sunday-school structure that kids often don’t fit into, discipleship and relationship building are the main focus of Mission Scranton. We want to invest into kids, not make them fit into a program.
Mission Scranton’s vision is to help inner-city families live victoriously, and this is accomplished through carefully developed programs, spiritual teaching and holistic development for children and young people. There are over 40 volunteers who serve with Mission Scranton in four areas of weekly ministry: a structured kids’ track, a discipleship-focused teen track, an Elevate Night to focus on homework and life skills development and transportation to a local church every week. Most of the volunteers are students or staff from Clarks Summit University.
A day in kids’ track
After the kids play games, the other volunteers and I lead the group of 20 to 30 kids through the community to a multi-purpose room on the bottom floor of an apartment building. Mission Scranton has permission to use this room from the Catholic organization “Friends of the Poor,” but the growing number of children that we attract every year means we have all but outgrown these accommodations. Some days, due to partnerships with local church volunteers, we are able to provide a meal for the kids. For some of the kids, it might be their only option for supper.
Today the kids enter and sit on the floor—it’ll take a few minutes to calm everyone down, and volunteers—mostly college students from Clarks Summit University or high school students from local churches—spread themselves among the kids to help them pay attention. I’m teaching tonight about the battle of Jericho. This environment is not your typical Sunday School lesson, and holding the attention of the multiple age groups is not easy! I’ve found that having the kids act out the Bible lesson helps them learn better. Still, it might appear to be a chaotic experience where the kids haven’t learned anything. That opinion would change if any observer had a chance to listen to the small groups which follow the lesson. Even though it seems like kids aren’t paying attention, small group leaders have conversations about everything from the gospel and the Bible to bullying, family troubles and academic struggles.
The night ends with us walking the kids back to their homes and apartments in the community, wishing them goodnight and gathering to evaluate the evening and pray for the kids.
It’s not always easy. In our ministry, we have discipled kids, prayed for them and watched them grow, only to see them walk away from God. We’ve also worked with kids for years with no results, only to finally start to see a relationship deepen and trust begin to grow. Even if I never see results from my time here, I know it is all worth it. Three years after young Alexa welcomed me to her community, I get to be her small group leader, watch her grow spiritually and emotionally, attend church and become a leader among her peers. God is great!
Who are the people God has placed in your life to serve, minister to, counsel and share the gospel with? Walk into their world. Be humble, and see what doors God opens up!
By Haley Seboe (’17)
Small group mentor at Mission Scranton and CSU admissions counselor
Rooted in Discipleship
Founded in 1994 by Dr. Mike Stallard, Mission Scranton is based on discipleship. Stallard worked at CSU for over 20 years as a professor, dean of Baptist Bible Seminary and director of Ph.D. studies. He now serves as director of international ministry for Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and as a BBS adjunct professor.
According to Stallard, the initial goal of Mission Scranton was to expose college and seminary students to multi-cultural outreach while facilitating church planting in low-income housing areas. In 1998, this ministry resulted in planting New Life Baptist Church. Stallard has seen over 300 students volunteer in the ministry.
One of those students was Nathan Miller, who was then studying Communications at CSU. Miller’s involvement convicted him of a deeper passion for ministry. “A lot of my discipleship came from simply watching a man who is one of the top biblical scholars in the community bring the gospel to an often neglected and hurting community,” says Miller. “Coming into the ministry, I was in a spot where I never saw myself being in a leadership role. He [Stallard] helped me identify how God gifted me and immediately pushed me to serve.”
When he graduated in 2015, Miller continued his Mission Scranton involvement. Now as executive director of Mission Scranton, alongside his full-time role at CSU, Miller disciples student volunteers. “I enjoy the opportunity to cast a vision to them individually on how God can use them and their gifts for His glory and then work through the challenges that hold them back from being in that place,” he says.
Stallard, who is now chairman of the Mission Scranton Board of Directors, observed Miller’s consistent dedication through and beyond college. “This told me a lot. His heart for the kids was evident as was his ability to develop teams, which has emerged strongly the last couple of years.”
Miller hopes Mission Scranton’s ministry will continue to gain greater influence as it connects with other churches and organizations. He says, “I dream about a day when we see children we have worked with for years rise up become the future Christian leaders of their families, churches and of Mission Scranton.”
Meet the student leaders
Elevate Night coordinator
Sophomore Elementary Education major from Poughkeepsie, New York
“I have learned that ultimately God is in control wherever we serve, and it is crucial that we commit our work to Him. Psalm 127 states that ‘unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.’ We can expend ourselves and work hard to see others come to Christ, but ultimately God is the one who directs their hearts towards Him.”
Domingo Rodriguez (’19)
Small group mentor
Intercultural Youth Ministries graduate from West Palm Beach, Florida
“I do what I do because God has made me passionate about kids, and the relationships I have formed with these teens and kids are special to me. Mission Scranton has helped me with relationships, serving and being faithful to the local church.”
Kids Track coordinator
Senior Sports Management major from Springville, Pennsylvania
“I serve because God commands us to ‘go,’ and I will use the gifts God gave me to serve Him. No matter where God takes me, the life lessons I have learned from Mission Scranton will prepare me for future interactions with people of all backgrounds, so that I may spread the gospel more effectively.”