Where are you originally from?
This question is never a simple one for this military child. I was born in South Carolina and throughout my childhood lived in four other states and two other countries; from South Carolina to Texas to Spain to Alabama to England to Massachusetts then to Virginia where my family retired from military service.
I grew up in an African American household where “Church” was part of the culture of our home, but our regular weekly “Church” rhythm was not enough to penetrate my heart with Gospel truth. I knew of Jesus Christ from a young age but never knew Jesus Christ. However, in the midst of the mess of my early twenties as a student at the University of Maryland, God stepped in as if to say, “Kristy, that’s enough.” On November 14, 1999, I gave my life to Jesus Christ at Round Oak Baptist Church. From that day forward, I decided that I would truly believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior; the problem was that I didn’t know what it meant to be a “Christian”. As a result, my lifestyle did not change drastically, but God was at work.
One day I received two simple little books in the mail from my friend Elaina. These books really drew me to my Bible. I began reading my Bible with consistency and making decisions for change in my life, but it was not until I moved back to Virginia and began attending Calvary Chapel Newport News that the light was really shined on the condition of my heart and the lifestyle I had been living. There was one occasion that a member from the church read my testimony and turned to me saying, “Wow, Kristy, there aren’t a lot of women who can admit that, ‘Yes, I used to be a Whore.’” My first thought was, “Huh? Where does it say that in my testimony? Surely, she misunderstood what I wrote.” Then I joked about it saying, “Well, I guess if I didn’t know I was a ‘whore’ before, I know it now.” Finally, as I really heard her words, I understood. Until she said this to me, I had no idea that that’s what my life looked like through the eyes of a Holy God whose heart’s desire is for His children to stop chasing empty ambitions and simply desire Him. I had never understood the gospel so clearly. For the first time, I could truly see why I needed to know Jesus Christ.
What led you to work for InnerCHANGE and come to Miami?
I attended Moody Graduate School in Chicago. At Moody, I was introduced to Christian Community Development (CCD). CCD is a philosophy of ministry which applies eight key components informed by scripture and biblical principles: relocation, reconciliation, redistribution, leadership development, listening to the community, church-based, holistic approach, and empowerment. These principles completely resonate with the way God has wired me.
Each year the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) holds a national conference in a major city. In 2007, I attended the conference in St. Louis where I met the founders of Urban Resurrection (Michael and Erika Philip and Laurie Cook). They shared with my friend Elaina and me that they had established a ministry in Miami where they were doing very grassroots CCD in a neighborhood called Coconut Grove. In the next eight months, I graduated from Moody Graduate School and began my search for ministry opportunities in Chicago. Right in the middle of my job search, Erika extended an invitation to visit their team in Miami to see if God might be calling me to serve with them. But shortly before I left, I was mugged and the assailant made off with my purse and wallet right down to my fortune cookie message.
The two weeks I spent in Miami were filled with lots of activity as well as lots of talk about potentially joining Urban Resurrection. My parting remark to Michael was that God gave some pretty specific signs when he called me to Chicago and I wasn’t seeing anything like that about Miami. He simply encouraged me to pray about it and I assured him that I would. About a week after returning home to Chicago, I received a call from my mom saying that someone had mailed my wallet to their house in Virginia. My mom dropped it in the mail to me right away, and when it arrived the only articles in it were my driver’s license, SS card, and my fortune cookie message saying, “You will move to a wonderful new place in less than a year.” For the first time, I allowed myself to consider that God may be calling me to Miami but it was the gospel of John 6:22-33 that convicted my heart and confirmed that call. I realized that I was like the crowd asking God for a sign when He already told me. I called Michael to let him know that it looked like I was moving to Miami.
What are the most significant challenges you’ve faced being a single woman as a local missionary in an urban context?
“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home” (Confucius).
If I were to apply this quote to our neighborhood, I would say that the strength of a community derives from the strength of the family. God created family as a place of joy, identity, security, love, and legacy. However, in the world we live in today, family is under heightened attack becoming, too often, places of uncertainty, trauma, and hurt. Along the margins of society, the uncertainty and hurt of family is magnified by oppression and poverty. One of the most effective ways to influence transformation is through example or demonstration. As a single woman, I’m able to support a family in tangible ways that include picking up kids from school, mediating in conflict, encouraging healthy family relationships, and participating in special events; however, I cannot demonstrate healthy family. I’m also able to help facilitate family healing and restoration through the identification of resources such as counseling and support groups; however, I cannot demonstrate healthy family.
I’m sure this is not true for all urban mission contexts, yet our team has seen time and time again that more of the young men of our neighborhood are drawn to our ministry and are giving their lives to Christ at higher rates than the young women of our neighborhood. This phenomenon is great news but the challenge presents itself in that our team is limited in male staff that can effectively disciple the young men in biblical manhood. As a woman, I can invite young men in the neighborhood into community and journey with them in that context; however, they need a man to walk more intimately with them in a discipleship relationship.
How can one participate alongside you in your ministry context with InnerCHANGE?
One way that people can participate alongside Urban Resurrection/InnerCHANGE Miami is through volunteering their time and talents/skills. Our neighborhood beautification project is a wonderful way for people to participate in the renewing of the physical condition of our neighborhood one home at a time. There are also opportunities to engage youth through tutoring, mentoring relationships, and BEATS (our arts program).
If a small group or individual is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of InnerCHANGE and our philosophy of ministry, our staff is willing to facilitate an interactive book study through one of two books Submerge by John Hayes (founder of InnerCHANGE) or Living Mission by Scott Bessenecker. There are also opportunities to serve in a more committed capacity with InnerCHANGE through SummerXchange internship, other internship, or apprenticeship. For more detailed information on those opportunities, they can check our website at innerchange.org.
Urban Resurrection/InnerCHANGE Miami and our staff are sustained by the financial partnership of others. There are always opportunities for individuals or groups to partner with us financially either on specific projects, one time gifts, or continuously through monthly/quarterly/annual partnership.
What would you suggest are some practical ways people can involved in their own neighborhoods?
I know this sounds really elementary, but the first step in building relationship you’re your neighbors is to meet your neighbors. In the busy pace at which most of us live today, it truly takes intentionality to engage in the lives of those whose paths don’t naturally cross ours even if they live right next door. If a person feels like they need an excuse to cross the street or walk next door, then deliver freshly baked sweets treats (cookies have worked for me and no one turns them down) to your neighbors.
Establish a regular rhythm in your week where you intentionally put yourself in a position to build relationship with someone in your neighborhood. One example would be playing with your kids in the local park where you can connect with other parents in your neighborhood. For singles, it may look more like being intentional about using your local community facilities (i.e. library, community center, gym, etc.). Here in Miami, people are not going to engage you, so you have to be willing to engage them.
Don’t forget about participating in the things God is doing throughout the city of Miami. Crossbridge is a good resource for connecting with a number of ministries that are doing powerful Kingdom work in the city.