While many college students spend their Friday nights relaxing, a group of Oklahoma Baptist University students dedicate a little of their free time to travel to Oklahoma City to serve at the Baptist Mission Center at 2125 Exchange Ave.
Through "Mission Center," a ministry of OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach, students are dedicated to ministering to families in Oklahoma City's Stockyards City neighborhood.
Every Friday night a group of 25-35 OBU students spend time at the Baptist Mission Center with an average of 40 kids ranging from preschool to high school ages. The college students walk routes to pick up the local kids for the evening. After arriving around 6 p.m., students and kids participate in a variety of activities, from arts and crafts with the younger children, to an assortment of sports with the older youth. A Bible study follows at 7 p.m., and then everyone is fed before they are taken home at 8 p.m.
"After we pick them up from their homes, we hang out with them at the Baptist Mission Center building, have a Bible lesson, feed them, and take them home," said Sarah Griffin, a junior nursing major from Bartlesville, Okla., who serves as co-chair of OBU's Mission Center ministry. "As a group that goes every Friday night, we become great friends and build strong relationships with each other and the kids."
Students David Goff, Bethany Slagle, Melissa Krauss and Amanda Eves tackle playground equipment with children at Oklahoma City's Baptist Mission Center. Goff is a junior from Tulsa, Okla.; Slagle is a junior from Boynton, Okla.; Krauss is a senior from Wasilla, Alaska; and Eves, from Terrebonne, Ore., graduated in May.
Allen Burmeister, a senior camp administration major from Peoria, Ariz., is the co-chair for the ministry.
"I work with the kids' group, and a lot of them are younger than what I am used to," Burmeister said. "I like watching these kids change and grow, and the kids are a delight to work with. Little kids are little kids, and they are a lot of fun. I have had to do stuff that I have never had to do before, like change a diaper and things like that, but I have never regretted it. I have always liked kids, but, through my experiences at Mission Center, God has given me a heart for the poor."
While most of the OBU students spend time working with the kids, a smaller group goes to nearby homes to visit with parents. Another group walks around the streets of the neighborhood praying and talking to people who are outside.
"Mission Center is a great way for OBU students to make a difference in the lives of kids and youth - as well as their families and the neighborhood - who need to know someone loves them, and that the ultimate One who loves them is Jesus," Griffin said.
In addition to being role models for the kids, the students act as helping hands and open ears for the parents they visit. They act as a light to the neighborhood in which minister, pointing residents to God's love. But the volunteers also are the first to admit they have learned from their experiences and been blessed by the ministry.
"I have learned what it means to love kids that are not always lovable, and that I am not worthy of God using me to touch them," Griffin said. "I've learned that the kids are probably a bigger blessing to me than I am to them. I have learned that commitment to a ministry is challenging at times, but to be committed means you do it even when you don't feel like it."
Griffin said she also has learned tangible lessons about the people around her and lessons about team leadership.
"I have learned a lot about what it means to grow up in a low socioeconomic home or neighborhood and all the struggles the kids face that I never had to face, like gangs, violence and parents who struggle to feed and provide for their family," she said.
"God is at work ... and He allows us to be a part of it. How awesome it is to be part of something God is blessing and working in," she added.
Burmeister said his commitment to Mission Center goes deeper than donating a few hours on a Friday night.
"Mission Center isn't a ministry where you just do a good deed; you become a part of kids' lives," Burmeister said. "They look forward to Fridays when all the kids are there, and in the summer they are missed and missing all of the OBU students.
"I have been involved in Mission Center since the beginning of my freshman year, and I will miss it when I have graduated and moved on. There are a couple of people that are still involved even though they graduated OBU a while ago because that is how much these kids mean to them."
For more information about Mission Center, contact Steve Winterberg, director of the Center for Global Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (405) 878-2372.