“Our mission at Light of the Village is to go into the world of other people and meet them where they are and help them draw closer to God. We are sending two of our kids off today. One is moving away and the other is going to college. It is hard, and sad, but really good. That is the beauty of what we do. For some kids, getting out and away from an environment that keeps dragging them down is the best option. It is also exciting to be with a kid as he grows up and moves on to the next chapter of his life.
John and I are from New Mexico and knew God had a different plan for us because we couldn’t have kids. John wanted to work in prisons. I was a teacher. While living in San Antonio, we joined a church in a home of former drug addicts. Meeting in their living room was night and day for us and seeing the lives of addicts and prostitutes changed us. We knew we wanted to do something similar.
After John graduated with a master’s degree in healthcare administration, the only job opportunity we were given was in Mobile at Mobile Infirmary. They moved us to Bay Minette and it was time to start something. In 2001, John was still involved in prison ministry and we delivered presents at Christmas time. One of the stops was to Queen’s Court Apartments in Prichard where a six-year-old little boy had been shot and killed. We had a Christmas party and started our ministry there. The next year we came across this abandoned building in Alabama Village. It was a boarded-up crack house in one of the most violent and impoverished communities in the south, but God told us this is where we need to be. We bought the building and fixed it up sixteen years ago.
Our calling and purpose at Light of the Village is to build relationships and point people to Christ. We aren’t faith-based, we are Christ-centered. These kids need to know people care and are showing the love of Christ by the way we act. We get to know what is going on in their lives, how to help with a few of their needs, and point them to the one who can provide all of their needs. We want them to have a relationship with Christ because he is the one who changes people from the inside out. He is there when no one else is.
We focus on after-school programs, in-school tutoring, and summer camps. We tried to start our own school but it didn’t work. We have four other staff members focused on worship, development, and satellite locations. We have branched out with after-school program at first Baptist in Chickasaw called Camp Faith. The city of Mobile liked what we did and asked us to do summer camp at two of their rec centers. We started Camp Hope at the Harmon Center in Plateau and Camp Light in Maysvillle. We have an after-school program in Maysviille, too.
We are branching out because this community in Alabama Village is slowly going away. The houses are coming down and the landlords are not fixing them or building them back up. They aren’t even collecting rent anymore and most people living in the houses just pay the light and utilities. Some own their own homes and take care of them, but the majority of houses are falling apart and there are fewer and fewer kids.
We pick up kids from three elementary schools and bring them here so we have about 45 kids in the afternoon. We have between 70 and 90 at summer camp. The camp goes for six weeks and we did a lot of research and brought people in to make sure the camp is quality. We are a small ministry with big dreams and we make a big impact. We have great connections with University of Mobile and Springhill College and they have helped us so much.
We are blessed to always have exactly what we need but we need more help with our after-school program. It is not hard to sit next to a child and read. These kids are missing love and attention and the little you do means a lot. We have homework help, dinner and Bible Study. Feeding the Gulf Coast brings us hot meals every Tuesday and Thursday. We want more art and music classes.
We started a team leader program for our teenagers who are too old for summer camp and we hire them to help with kids. They also wanted to go on a mission trip like other kids so we now take them to Juarez, Mexico each summer to help build homes and have Bible camps. We make candles every Monday and Wednesday to earn money for mission trips. The candles are sold at local retailers and we teach about entrepreneurship and business. This money also goes towards lab fees, prom, and graduation fees. We are candlemakers working in a candle factory, but it is more than that, it is time to talk. We eat popcorn and treats as we work. It is so relaxing. The walls come down and we talk about real stuff and often turn it back to God.”
“God put this calling on our hearts. There is no doubt this is where we are supposed to be. It is hard and we see the good and the bad, but we are here to share faith, love and hope one person at a time. We have been here almost 20 years and know what these kids go through and know how much it means for them to reach a goal like going to college. Jesse leaves today but we will still be around and touching base with him. There will always be the next one who needs help and I want to do the same for one more.
Working with kids in difficult situations is like a current and we are on a raft. You see the rapids coming and you know they are there so you have to fasten your seatbelt and roll on through. Bad things happen and we are around at the worst of times, but faith gets us through it. We have helped our kids get through shootings deaths of friends and family members and problems no kid should go through. We help them hang on and show they are loved. We teach them that each one of us is created by God with a purpose.”
How you can help:
-Volunteer for after-school programs and In-school tutoring.
-Donate to help feed teens dinner (pizza, subs, or hot dogs, chips, cookies, drinks) on Teen Night. They serve around 30 kids.
-Buy a candle online or at locations around Mobile including Urban Emporium, The Trading Post At PTM, Red Beard’s Outfitter in Spring Hill, Meggie B’s in Semmes, and Anntique Emporium At MAH
(The next few stories will be from Prichard, Alabama, a once-thriving city on the edge of Mobile. Many people have moved away from Prichard and it struggles with difficult issues from violence, drugs, and education to city government, employment, transportation, and public water. But Prichard is also a reminder that communities are more than the stories of shootings and failures reported every night on the news. It is more than crime statistics and a proud past. There are good people who haven’t given up or are coming back home to Prichard. They have hope and are giving themselves to make a difference. I hope Prichard proves that positive change comes from people like this taking action. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.)