Does your city measure up to Indianapolis?

Cities | Motivated by faith, many ministries in this Midwestern city bear fruit in their good works
by Russ Pulliam
Posted 1/24/15, 02:59 pm

INDIANAPOLIS—Is my hometown a faith-based city? Or do other medium-sized U.S. cities have more than a handful of good works rooted in Christianity?

We would like for you, our readers, to help us answer the question about other cities (either by commenting below or writing to WORLD’s June McGraw), but Indianapolis’ story is intriguing and growing.

Some of Indy’s good works are evident in several older established non-profit groups, including a rescue mission more than a century old. Others are newer, as young as 3 to 5 years old, with small budgets. What they share is a vision for what Jeremiah told the Israelites to pursue: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.”

Mostly moved by Christian faith, these efforts focus on the poor and needy, broken families and homelessness, alcohol abuse and criminal offenders returning home after imprisonment.

Purposeful Design provides homeless men with a sheltered work opportunity, where they build wood furniture for sale. This new business/ministry has a small budget, relying primarily on volunteers. Businessman David Palmer started Purposeful Design while serving on a rescue mission board and kept seeing how difficult it was for homeless men to find jobs.

The Fuller Center for Housing offers low-income families an opportunity to build and own low-cost homes in and around the city. Businessmen Jeff Cardwell and Ron Fisher have not only seen families come to own the homes, but they also have witnessed a sharp reduction in crime in one neighborhood where many of the homes were renovated or built on vacant lots. Like Purposeful Design, the Fuller ministry works off a small budget, relying primarily on volunteers and sweat equity in building five or so homes a year.

At the Jesus House, Pastor William Bumphus provides a transitional home for about 35 former prison inmates. They come to Bible study several evenings a week and often have previously made a commitment to Christ in response to Bumphus’ preaching in Indiana prisons. Bumphus has empathy for these men, but he also can see through any of their tall tales. He came to Christ 35 years ago when he was behind bars as a young criminal offender and has been preaching Christ ever since.

Heart Change Ministries assists women in the next steps in life after a crisis pregnancy. Volunteers work through the Mothers University, which offers work opportunities as well as academic training for the GED test in order to improve job prospects for these mothers. The ministry also works on the next step: to offer homes for rent in a low-income area of town, which would provide some housing stability for these families in need.

Cindy Palmer came up with the idea for Heart Change when she pondered a way to follow up with women who gave life to their babies instead of having an abortion. The ministry grew out of Life Centers, Indianapolis’ version of a crisis pregnancy ministry. Life Centers has several facilities throughout the city, offering the gospel and an opportunity for mothers to see their baby in the womb through ultrasound technology.

These ministries come in more than one size. Most are small, but a few have grown to the size of a small business, with budgets of more than $1 million and a full-time staff.

The Shepherd Community Center, the Midwest Regional runner-up for WORLD’s 2013 Hope Award for Effective Compassion, focuses on rebuilding families and breaking the cycle of poverty in a low-income area of town. The ministry is affiliated with an inner-city Nazarene Church, and director Jay Height hopes that beneficiaries of the ministry will emerge eventually to take his place. The Shepherd Community Center has a small Christian school for the families, as well as a Saturday medical clinic and a summer camp program.

The Wheeler Mission is a traditional rescue mission in some respects. Located in downtown Indianapolis, the more-than-a-century-old ministry is the city’s best-known shelter for the homeless, with its iconic “Jesus Saves” neon sign still hanging over its front door. Those who come to salvation through the daily chapel services can benefit from a discipleship program at a rural camp that includes sheltered work in pallet-making, helping some to get back to work after sobering up.

A smaller and similar ministry, Good News Mission, offers food, shelter, and the gospel to the homeless in another Indianapolis neighborhood.

Helping a more targeted group of the homeless, Outreach Inc. offers counseling, food, and job training for teens in crisis. Founder Eric Howard and his staff started the ministry out of the trunk of his car several years ago but now works out of an older home in the inner city.

The Gennesaret Free Clinics employ volunteer doctors and nurses who provide the homeless with free medical care and offer a transitional housing facility for homeless men coming out of hospitals. Started by Dr. James Trippi in the late 1980s, the clinics offer services at shelters throughout the city. The name comes from the healing ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Trippi started the ministry after serving food in a soup kitchen for the homeless, realizing that the men had minor medical ailments that could be treated on an outpatient basis at a low cost.

Neighborhood Fellowship, a congregation of mostly low-income families, also offers a medical clinic for the poor. Rather than launch a war on poverty, Pastor Jim Strietelmeier has identified poverty and suffering as Christ’s means of drawing our attention to spiritual as well as physical needs.

The Christian Neighborhood Legal Clinic offers free legal service to people in need, often immigrants. Local lawyers volunteer their time at the clinic.

An unusual judge in Indianapolis tries to run his courtroom with a mix of justice, compassion, and social work. Community Court Judge David Certo provides a food and clothing pantry for hungry or homeless lawbreakers who usually wind up in his court for public intoxication, trespass, or drug abuse. He sometimes sends an offender to jail, but more often he looks for a way to help someone get a job or an assignment to the Salvation Army for alcohol abuse. Certo would identify himself as a conservative politically and believes that his approach is consistent with small and efficient government, helping people in need to minimize their entanglement in the criminal justice system with alternatives to time behind bars.

The city also has a strong Goodwill Industries organization, with its historic Christian roots and its involvement with a new, respected charter high school. The Salvation Army also has served Indianapolis for many years.

The question is whether Indianapolis’ story is being replicated in other U.S. cities. Do other cities have a dozen or so ministries using creative means to help people in need? Many of Indy’s volunteers are in the second half of their lives, not necessarily having to work full time any longer but looking for ways to serve the Lord.

Jay Hein, who is head of the Indianapolis-based Sagamore Institute and previously served as director of the Bush administration’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said it is a challenge to discern this kind of ministry in any city: “The humility and life-on-life qualities that make faith-based groups effective also keep them out of the news headlines. They are interested in making a difference, not building their profiles.”

But WORLD would like to learn about such ministries where you live, not to glorify them but, through our reporting, use them as examples to others to go and do likewise. If you can share notes (like I’ve outlined in this article) about similar initiatives in your city, please comment below or send an email to June McGraw at WORLD.

Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of the WORLD News Group board of directors.

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