For the better part of the past nine years, Jeff Killebrew found himself in inner-city New Orleans-on Desire Street to be exact. “Desire Street used to be the second largest public housing development in the country,” Jeff says. “By the early “90s, HUD rated the Desire Project the “worst community in the nation.” Take all the stereotypical inner-city statistics, multiply them a few times over, and that was the nature of the area. Children under 18 were the majority of the population-the vast majority growing up without fathers and under the poverty line.
The mission was clear-cut-revitalize the Desire neighborhood through spiritual and community development. With their focus on youth, they provided safe recreational opportunities, tutoring, and Bible studies. In doing so, they became fathers to the fatherless. “We called our philosophy “incarnational ministry,” so we lived in the community and became neighbors, integrating ourselves as much as possible into the fabric of the community,” Jeff explains.
Immersed in the work of Desire Street Ministries, he and his roommates learned firsthand what it was like to grow up in this area. “Poverty is relative, and it’s not always about financial means. Poverty is pervasive and affects housing, economic development, educational opportunities, and a whole slew of other issues. That’s why our organization was holistic in its approach to transforming young lives,” Jeff says.
As for rewarding work … well, Jeff has a different perspective. “Working to help people overcome poverty and injustice appears to be rewarding because it has meaning and purpose, and that it does. Our ministry in New Orleans was not a quick-fix kind of program,” he stresses. “I was in it for the long haul, and the rewards were often slow in coming. You could find joy and reward in the small victories but always had to readjust to a long-term focus and see things from God’s point of view to not get discouraged with slow progress. When you’re trying to transform lives and communities, it’ll probably be three generations before the damage done by the previous three has been reversed.
“The most rewarding thing has been my own personal growth that came as a result of the challenge of being called to this kind of work. It shatters preconceived ideas-some of them anyway,” Jeff says. It stretched him to a greater dependence on God as well as the opportunity to make friends and become neighbors with people that a more traditional, comfortable lifestyle would have not afforded him. “That’s the real reward,” Jeff adds.
There is, however, one glaring misconception-the idea that ministry to the poor is for the select few and not central to the call of every Christian gets under Jeff’s skin. “I learned that righting wrongs and serving those in need is at the very heart of Christ’s ministry and, in fact, the heart of God,” he says. “Not everyone is called to move into the inner city or give up the security of a corporate job, but every Christian should get his or her hands dirty in the struggle in some form or fashion.”
“The Bible teaches that being a disciple of Christ means we are supposed to share in His sufferings,” Jeff continues. “Christians should take action against injustice because that reflects the love of Christ. Open doors for the gospel part of living for Him will also mean suffering to further the cause of the gospel. My experiences have increased my understanding of how big and loving and merciful and forgiving God is. I view the sacrifice of Christ differently and therefore see my role differently. He died that we, that I, might find life in Him. And with that eternal reward comes earthly responsibility. Luke 9:23-24 speaks to that truth, that calling.”