Philly: Day 4

A note from Billy:

Parents and everyone else reading this blog,

Thank you for praying for our team while we’re in Philly this week! We have already had an incredible trip and we are excited to see what God does next. We’ve led six kids camps already, provided meals and prayer to the homeless, learned about how to share the Gospel across different cultures and religions, grown closer as a team, and, most importantly, we’ve seen kids give their lives to Jesus this week! Please continue praying for our team that God would continue to work through us and in us in Philly. He’s done so much already and I know He can do so much more!

IMG_3096Now that both the StreetWise and Philly teams are serving together at Urban Hope, I have traveled home today as planned to prepare for Grace Students this Sunday night and also to get ready to lead our Middle School mission trip to Columbus next week. Our Philly team is now being led by Tim Boucher, our Grace Kids Director, Juli Ressler, our Grace Students Ministry Assistant, and Jake Lawson, one of our Next Steps Directors on staff, along with a great team of volunteers. Pray for them as they lead the team this week, and pray for us to have a life-changing trip in Columbus next week.

P.S. Shameless plug because I couldn’t be more excited about it: We have nine spots left for the Columbus trip! If you have a student entering grades 7 or 8 next year it is not too late for them to sign up and join us. You can find the form at and email me at to let me know you’re interested!

Now, here’s an update on what God did in Philly today from two of our students, Nick Muro and Lexi Muntin!

Billy Starkey
Grace Students Director

It’s only been three full days in Philadelphia and God has already been working in the lives of countless people. Nick Muro was one of our students  who has already directly witnessed this life change first hand. “I’ve seen God working in countless lives, three of which i was able to talk to these kids and help them accept Christ into their lives. The 19959103_1544822185539429_6147631490845181644_nfirst one was on Tuesday and she was an awesome kid, her name was Kin Kin and I was brought into that situation by my friend Hannah Engle, she was one of the seniors in our group. Kin Kin had been talking to her when she decided that she wanted to accept Christ and Hannah actually gave me the chance to talk to her about accepting Christ and what it meant. It was an awesome experience and Kin Kin really seemed to know what she was talking about and seemed really happy to serve her new lord. The other two kids were actually two cousins. One of them was talking to me about what Heaven was like and he wanted to know more about it and so one of the things I said was that to get to heaven you have to accept Christ Jesus into your heart. So, once I was able to pull him aside his cousin tagged along as well and so again I was able to talk to them about what accepting Christ means and how Jesus can clean your heart of sin. I am so thankful that I am able to go on a trip to Philly this year, it really has been a breathtaking experience this week as he changes the lives of these young kids. Now I’m looking forward to what God has in store for the rest of camp and these kid’s futures.”

19884381_1544584172229897_2419255778030827702_n.jpgHere’s an update from another student, Lexi Muntin: “As we’ve served people here the stories of life change and the Lord’s power have just flooded in leaving us all emotionally charged with compassion for the people of Philly and each other. Today was our third day of Kingdom Kids camp and it left everyone somewhat tired, but completely filled with urge to serve, whether that would be praying for strangers on the street or passing out Water Ice as well we have all been ready to serve. Last night was incredibly emotional during a specific session of worship for a lot of people and it carried over today, in almost every way it brought us closer to each other and left us more ready to give ourselves to God completely. So as w start to reach the end of our week we ask for everyone to keep us in their prayers and hope for even more life change to come!”

Philly: Day 1

Yesterday, Sunday, was a fantastic end to the StreetWise conference and a great transition into welcoming the rest of the Philly team to Urban Hope! Here is a note from Chloe Boucher about Sunday.

“Hi friends and family! Thank you so much for all of your prayers throughout not only this past week but also for this upcoming week! Streetwise was an amazing experience and we all learned so much. Today was a day full of all kinds of emotions. First of all, our leader team plus Tyler and Lauren left in the morning as it was the end of StreetWise. I am so thankful for all of them, how blessed our team was. After the leaders left, the rest of our StreetWise team got to go to Church on the Block. This service was incredible. This church loves to worship and celebrate all that the Lord does. Our team was completely in awe of what God was doing during this service… we got to witness 6 people get baptized!!! Praise the Lord! Needless to say, there were a few tears.

FullSizeRenderOur team then got to go watch the new Spider-Man movie, we all needed the comedic relief from the movie-and from Billy falling asleep!

Once we got back to Urban Hope, we had about 30 minutes before the rest of our Philly team arrived in which all of the girls took naps. And then finally…the rest of the team arrived!!!! We are together and then had orientation on Urban Hope and on Kingdom Kids Camp. Afterwards, we had some free time to just get to know each other better and get ready for an amazing week at Kingdom Kids.

Please be praying for life change in not only the kids but also in our team. This is going to be a tiring week, but I can’t wait to see what all God does this week in Philly!” (Chloe Boucher)

TODAY, Monday, we’ve started our first day of Kingdom Kids Camp at Urban Hope and then we went and passed out some sandwiches in a homeless community. Below, you’ll see some thoughts from Mya Vandegrift and Kristian Kirsch.

“In the morning we picked up kids from the West side of the church. It was a good group, and pretty energy filled. After lunch it was time for round two. We picked up kids from the East side, and had a roughly smaller number of children total. They were a bit more talkative, but I fell in love with their personalities.

Image-1After dinner we did a homeless ministry, giving sandwiches and conversations to those whom are usually overlooked. It was an amazing experience, and I believe it opened our eyes to a lot of America’s physical and spiritual needs. I met a lot of great people, one of which was under influence and only wished that we pray for his wife and daughter. It seemed as if they were all he had, and everything we saw added to this idea that we are all human, and all in something to hold on to. We can’t get through this alone, none of us can. We need to love each other, and above all love God.” (Mya Vandegrift)

“This afternoon we had a kids camp that I got to lead with a great group of leaders. It was so encouraging to see the positive attitude that the kids expressed throughout the camp despite the poverty in their neighborhood and the problems they might be facing. I had a kid named Dylan who, during our small group time, told me that he was against God when asked a question concerning where they were at with Christ. I asked him why and he explained that it was because people took things from him. I explained that God wouldn’t allow anything to happen to him that He wouldn’t use to help him grow. When I continued to talk to him, he told me he wanted to follow Christ! After being able to pray with him, I saw a more positive turn in him afterwards. Philly has been absolutely amazing and humbling and so far I’ve been here only a little more than 24 hours. I can’t wait to see what God has for the rest of the week!” (Kristian Kirsch)

Thank you all for continued prayers!

StreetWise: Day 4

“Filled with food, fun, and LOTS of water, Streetwise Day Four was nothing short of exceptional. Starting off the morning with another session lead by Sean McDowell, our team had the opportunity to learn about questions nonbelievers and skeptics may be inclined to asking Christians. Talking about the specific question, “If God is real, why is IMG_3330there evil?” Sean spoke about how evil is like rust on pure metal. Rust can only exist if pure metal first exists. Rust is the corruption of the pure metal. Similarly, evil is a corruption of good. Without the idea of what is good, there is no idea of what is evil. Just like rust, good can exist without evil, but it is impossible for evil to exist without good. Even further, he spoke about how the idea of good only makes sense if you bring God into the picture. This, statistically speaking, means that the problem of evil is good proof that there is a God in the universe.

The second half of our session revolved around things that skeptics wish Christians would know, both in aspects of relation and content. The first specific topic Sean spoke on was that of bad impressions that Christians tend to leave on nonbelievers. There were three bad  impressions: hypocrisy, don’t take their religion seriously, and inconsistency in the faith. As often as I feel like we hear this of Christians, it really struck me that we aren’t doing the job we need to be doing. We need to be leading our lives lovingly and gracefully, not criticizing others for their beliefs, but hearing their stories and treating them like the children of God that they are. Instead, we tend to preach at them, treating them like projects who are completely in the wrong, which puts us in the wrong.

This leads to the next topic Sean talked about: How to improve interactions with skeptics. IMG_3332The first point he made was to listen. Plain and simple. All week one of the biggest emphasis was on sharing the gospel and forming relationships with people by LISTENING. As naturally selfish people, all we want to talk about is what do WE think, and what do WE believe? Hardly do we take the time to actually think about the other person’s feelings and hear what they might believe and why they believe that. This week I’ve really been convicted by this. So often I find myself only thinking that this person needs Jesus, so I’ll shove Jesus down their throats until they believe, which is such a terrible idea to have. Asking questions gracefully and listening to their answers intently results in relationships, which can lead to spiritual conversations, that, if lead in the right manner, can even lead to a seed planted or a decision for Christ.

After sitting through the session and learning so much about apologetics, we had the ability to be trained in  how to lead our “Splash Party” for kids and families in the Kensington neighborhood surrounding Urban Hope. The church was able to literally close down the block to allow for outdoor water games and a presentation of the Gospel on the street in front of tons of kids and their families! Our team definitely had a blast getting soaked with a bunch of kiddos while simultaneously showing them the love of Jesus. The Splash Party was definitely a great step into a week full of leading some of the same kids in a VBS along with the rest of our team that arrives on Sunday night!”                                                                                      

                                                                           – Anna Muntin


StreetWise: Day 3

This StreetWise team continues to do amazingly with every moment of ministry. Below are the stories from Justin Schlabach and Brooke Aukerman.

“Today we got to experience another compelling message from Sean McDowell. He IMG_3328taught us how to be confident in defending our faith, Sean made some great points in his message, the main topic of his message was about why Christianity can be considered as a true religion, it really spoke to our team. One point that really spoke to me was that all other religions have some mention of Jesus, Islam mentions Him as a prophet, Buddhism tells their followers that Jesus was a good moral teacher, and Hinduism actually includes that Jesus is one of their deities in certain ways. But no other religion mentions Muhammad outside of Islam and no other religion mentions Buddha outside of Buddhism. That really spoke to me, just thinking about how much Jesus has influenced humanity humbles me tremendously.

IMG_3327In the afternoon, our team was sent out to Mifflin Park in South Philly to have spiritual conversations with people there. The area where the park is at is mostly Cambodian and Malaysian, so it was interesting learning about the people’s’ culture and background. One man that I got to speak to was from Malaysia, his name was Chin. Chin overheard me presenting the gospel to another man in the park, after the other man and I parted ways, Chin stopped me to say that when he heard me presenting the gospel, he couldn’t help himself but cry. He told me that he was a part of a church but he had left and that he had a drinking problem, but that he wanted to go back to church and find Christ again. He told me that he was struggling because he couldn’t really speak English well enough to express himself fully. He told me not to worry about him because he already committed to turning his life around, but he exclaimed once again that when he hears the message of the gospel, he can’t help himself but cry. I got to pray for him and he graciously shook my hand and said that he was thankful for our talk. It was a great spiritual conversation, and I could feel God moving through the conversation. It’s because of Jesus that these things can happen, all glory goes to Him for what happened today.”  – Justin Schlabach

“Hi my name is Brooke and today was a wonderful experience! First we started off the day with teaching from Sean on truth. He spoke on the importance of truth and important facts about truth such as truth has consequences, it is the compass of life, and just believing is not enough because our beliefs don’t change reality. He made a really great point by saying, “Our faith is only as good as what our faith is in.” This, along with our experience yesterday with the mosque, has made us think about the truly important part of the gospel. It’s not that Jesus was born of a virgin, did miracles, and was sinless. The most important part is that HE DEFEATED DEATH! Later on in the day we were challenged to share our story with people from different groups here at streetwise to prepare for our time in the city talking to people.

IMG_3324 (1)In the evening, we ventured via public bus into the city were we were just finding people to talk to and hopefully have spiritual conversations with. Chloe and I were walking around together and decided to go up to this man who had a dog (because I mean dogs, am I right?) and we ended up talking with him the entire time we were in the park. His name was Chin and he was a refugee from Cambodia who came to the United States in the 1980s. He was extremely easy to talk to because after we asked him a few questions he completely opened up to us and told us his whole story from start to finish. But there was something new to us about his religious beliefs. We found out he was of the Buddhist religion but after talking with him about Buddhism we concluded that it was more of a cultural thing and he only practiced it occasionally. He then opened up to us and said that in college we became part of Taoism because of his roommate who was Taoist. This intrigued Chloe and I so much wish I could’ve seen our faces from an outside perspective because neither of us had ever heard of this religion and we probably looked like curious little children just wanting to know more. At the end of our chat we got to pray with him and then sadly we had to go but I’m looking forward to researching more about Taoism with Chloe to find out what exactly our friend believes in and surely we will keep praying for him as he does not know Jesus as his Savior.

In group time after this awesome experience we got to be encouraged and reminded that what we did should absolutely not stay here and we should be thinking about how we are going to act differently back in Ohio. The topic of not even knowing our neighbors on our streets was brought up and for me the challenge will be saying hello and giving a smile to more people than I did in the past. So I encourage you to keep praying for us as our lives are being changed.”    – Brooke Aukerman


Keep an eye out for our next post tomorrow! Thanks for praying!

StreetWise: Day 2

We’ve already had so many great moments on this trip! Everyone is doing so well and we hope you enjoy the below stories that share a bit about what we’ve experienced here in Philly so far.

IMG_3316“The first night arriving to Streetwise was a pretty crazy, tiring, and forgiving day. We arrived, settled in and were thrown right into serving. We were assigned by Urban Hope to work in an area that is a more impoverished and depressed portion of the city. We had constructed lunches that consisted of sandwiches and bottled water to give to the homeless. When I had stepped off the bus onto the streets we had encountered many people who were in great need of the lunches.

One guy who really stuck out to me was Hector. Hector was an older, Hispanic man who lived in or around the area. He was with his wife and asked for a couple of the lunches. Although Hector didn’t speak much English, and was living with very little he was one of the most optimistic, enthusiastic, and thankful guys we had encountered. After we had given him the lunches he wanted to stick around the group and talk to us about us and himself and had also offered many hugs. Before we had left him and his wife to themselves, he demanded to get a group picture with all of us. We had encountered many people like Hector who were very thankful and even stopped to talk about the church. These people are a huge part that gives us that feeling of generosity and hope. They live in one of the most broken, hurt, and depressed areas and yet still find a way to express kindness and to stop and listen. Spreading the word of the gospel to people of a community and seeing the people absorb our faith, allows for you and God to see the wonder.”                                                                    – Reis Rising


“Today I got the opportunity to experience the islamic culture. Earlier in the morning Sean McDowell, the StreetWise conference speaker, spoke about muslims and how we could encounter them in a loving, respectful way. He compared christianity with islam. One of the points that stuck out to me the most was “In the Qu’ran it says God is loving, but in the Bible it says God is love.” One of the main distinctions islamic culture is false is because it doesn’t mention the death and the resurrection of Christ. It skips over the most important part, God’s relentless grace that He gives us by dying for our sins. When I arrived at the mosque in New Jersey, it was different then I had pictured. Usually when you think of a mosque you think of a high domed building with lot’s of unique designs.

IMG_3314Instead, it was just a regular building with people who need the truth of Jesus. All the Muslims were very accepting of our faith and practiced true hospitality to our whole team. At the mosque Sean shared the gospel and after, the imam shared his beliefs. The people there prepared and served us a delicious meal along with a huge spread of deserts. (My personal favorite was the triple fudge chocolate cake which was totally unhealthy, but was totally worth it!) After the meal, people in the room were allowed to ask questions about either faith. I’ll be honest, it was very interesting to hear the answer the imam gave to try and compare his faith to Christianity. During the time questions were still being asked, I saw a Muslim man sitting to the right of me on the side of the room. With God’s strength, I got up from my seat and sat with the man on the floor and started a conversation with him. He told me his name was Mustafa and explained to me about his wife and 14 month old daughter. It was such an amazing opportunity I can’t even explain it. I asked about his culture and some of the practices he believes, which was cool because he then asked about mine. Although I didn’t get to describe in img_3317.jpgdefaultdetail about Christianity, I got to plant a small seed in Mustafa’s life. Just initiating one simple conversation and listening with care allowed me to be able and connect to the Muslim man. It  just goes to show how good God is. He is working in the lives of the people here in Philadelphia and He’s using our team to make a difference. I am loving StreetWise! It has been amazing being able to bond with everyone. And not to mention our leaders are great. Please continue to be praying for us as we have another fun, full day ahead of us!”                                                                                – Hannah Engle

Thank you all for your prayers! Look for more stories and pictures tomorrow.



Atlanta Day 4

Hey Y’all! I can’t believe we only have one more day here in ATL! Thursday morning we went to The Center for Civil and Human Rights. At the center we walked around and looked at various rooms displaying different issues in our world. First we looked at a room all about Martin Luther King Jr. where they had letters and documents from him on display. They also had a replicated wall of what they thought his book shelves may have looked like and the books they think he may have had.


Next we went to the floor for Civil Rights. Here they have a simulator that shows what it would have felt like to participate in a sit-in. There was also a room showing the struggles of the Freedom Riders and the path that they traveled and their many arrests. Next there was a very large displayed video of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech and it also showed everyone who went out to support and come together. There were more rooms showing the struggle for civil rights.

On the next floor there were a few rooms showing the problems and struggles for people around the world. Some of the issues were women’s rights, sex slavery, and the plight of people living under oppressive dictatorships today. There are life size videos of people around the world sharing their stories of everyday struggles that they go through. This center was an amazing and very eye-opening experience for our team.

Then Thursday night we had our last kids camp at our locations and churches. All three programs went very well and we even saw kids accept Jesus into their hearts! Overall it was a fantastic week with the kids and we built some incredible relationships with the kids and their parents.

-Gabby Bodager

ATL Blog 2

Greetings Ohioans,

What a crazy week! These days are seriously flying by! Wednesday was an eventful day as we visited the Al-Farooq mosque in downtown Atlanta. Upon our arrival at the mosque we were instructed to remove our shoes before entering, as is the custom as to keep the mosque and its floor clean. We met the “director of community outreach” and he gave a tour of the mosque. The first thing the director showed us was the washroom. This was a first time experience for most of us on this trip and it was a confusing one. We learned that muslims believe they have to wash themselves in a very specific way before every single prayer in order to be “perfectly clean” in order to be presentable to their god. Another thing about the muslim belief is that they pray five times every single day, at the exact same time every day, praying five different prayers that are repeated every day. It is so great to know that we can pray to God wherever and whenever we want to! We don’t have to wash ourselves before we come before God in prayer!

After the washroom we went to the main prayer room and we learned about the five pillars of Islam which are the five core concepts of their belief that they must live by. Once the director was finished, we had a Q&A session where we could ask any question we had about Islam or the lives of muslims. We learned that those who follow Islam have no assurance that they will go to heaven. They work their entire lives living for the five pillars of Islam, hoping that can do enough good works that god might show them mercy. Wow…it is so awesome to KNOW that we can go to heaven and spend eternity with God. What’s amazing about God is that his love is endless . The Bible says “For God SO loved the world…” He doesn’t just like us or put up with us, He sent his Son to die for all of us. And I forget who said this but for me it really opened my eyes to God’s love for the whole world. They said, “Does God love the lost? Does God love those who hate Him? Does God loves the Muslim as he is praying to allah?” God loves every person all the time. My heart goes to the muslims who put so much dedication into their religion.

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On a positive note, tonight is our last night at our kid’s camp! The last three days don’t seem like nearly enough time and every night we’re as sad to leave the kids as the kids are sad that we are leaving. Tonight we are presenting the gospel and I’m so excited! The Haitian church has been such a blessing and making friends with the kids is so amazing! God is definitely doing wonders with our team and I can’t wait to see how God moves in the lives of the kids tonight! Thank you everyone for all of your prayers! We’re feeling the love!

Yours Truly,

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (Mark Wengerd)