Imagery of Regent people and campus

YURC Cleans Up Downtown Norfolk Apartments

By Brett Wilson | February 20, 2013

Dr. Antipas Harris led a team of YURC and community volunteers while picking up trash in downtown Norfolk.
Photo Courtesy of Jeffry Keeney.

Regent University students seeking ministry opportunities may not need to look much further beyond the artsy caf├ęs and fair trade coffee shops that speckle the streets of Norfolk. On Saturday Feb. 16, Youth and Urban Renewal Center (YURC) street team volunteers partnered with Campus Ministries to host a collaborative trash pickup with the members of the Lexington Park apartments.

This was the first community cleanup hosted by YURC, and is an outreach activity that its leaders expect to become a monthly event. Third-year divinity student Lonnie Duckett hopes that last weekend's cleanup will help YURC gain momentum with others at Regent and those living within Norfolk's urban sprawl.

"You can't really speak into people's lives unless they know that you love them," said Duckett. "And the only way you can show them that is to demonstrate it through your actions."

Assistant divinity professor and founding director of YURC, Dr. Antipas Harris, said that becoming a familiar face in an area helps facilitate genuine and relevant ministries in diverse communities. According to Harris, working alongside the community in these cleanups will also give YURC a better idea of what ministry opportunities will be most beneficial to the neighborhood. Harris refers to this partnership as "friend-raising."

"You can't lead from the ivory towers," said Harris. "You have to get out there with them."

Second-year divinity student Samantha Mazzola agrees with Harris's "friend-raising" philosophy when it comes to missions. She said that by becoming a regular volunteer in a neighborhood, YURC and other outreach groups will be able to tailor their missions to the specific needs of a community.

"Our mission isn't to go in there every single time to preach the gospel, it's to go in there and build a relationship so that we can preach the gospel, said Mazzola. "It's a different approach, I think."

Mazzola also believes establishing trust in an unreached community can also break the stigmas of the many stereotypes in opposition to Christianity.

"Most people there have been disappointed and pushed behind, and they've been through so many struggles and trials through life," said Mazzola. "Love just seems like an unrealistic concept."

Mazzola said she understands how far-fetched it may seem to accept love without any ulterior expectations, because she grew up in situations similar to the community she reached out to last weekend.

"I think that's what motivates me to go into the communities, because I understand their perspective and I want to make a difference," said Mazzola.

In addition to their efforts with YURC, Mazzola and Duckett are in the Urban Ministry Residency Program, sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk. This program allows willing divinity students to live in a house near the church's campus, and serves as the epicenter that generates YURC's pulse within the community.

Duckett explained that YURC, along with the residency program, has given him important applications to coincide with his Biblical education.

"You have to be careful as a divinity student not to get so lost in your studies that you get disconnected from the community," said Duckett.

Mazzola also said that with the practical knowledge and experience she has gained as a participant of YURC and the Urban Ministry Residency Program, she feels more prepared to lead a ministry in the future.

"Without putting those things that you're learning into practice on a regular basis, the majority of the stuff you've learned by the time you graduate will have just gone in one ear and out the other," said Mazzola.

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