Terri Johnson first connected to South Street Ministries as a participant in Sunday worship at The Front Porch Café in 2013. There she found people from all sorts of backgrounds living as Jesus followers seven days a week. Having a heart for those who choose a life of ministry and sacrifice, she was led by the Holy Spirit to provide ministers with affordable housing. Terri opened a Christian community home three years ago in the Summit Lake neighborhood. The home is next to The Front Porch Fellowship church, the newly named congregation that migrated from the Café to Summit Lake (in the former Miller Avenue UCC building.) Terri’s calling to support ministry leadership is also evident in her role as chairperson of the church’s board. As her roots deepened in the community, Terri moved from Hudson to a home in Akron in 2015. This blog is a part of the 20/20 Come and See series.
How did I get connected to South Street Ministries? I don’t remember the workshop title but the facilitator was Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Sarah Emerick and I were at a youth ministry conference in Chicago. I was a twenty year veteran of youth groups and Sunday School at a church in Hudson. Sarah was the Youth Director. Both of us were excited to escape to Chicago for a few days as we were frazzled with life’s challenges. We did not expect to have our view of the ministry turned upside down. Dr. Clark challenged our view of the church. Were we leading youth to sustain the church at its current state? Or, were we introducing the youth to the idea that the church should look like Jesus’ ministry?
At the end of the workshop Sarah asked Dr. Clark for contemporary author recommendations. He gave us three suggestions – Dallas Willard, Shane Claiborne, and I can’t remember the third. As I threw myself into Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy,” Sarah absorbed Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution.” And then we switched. It was like putting on a pair of jeans that spent too much time in the dryer. Our time spent at our Protestant denomination church in an affluent town no longer fit.
A few months later, Sarah, the Youth Director of our church, called The Simple Way, the radical Christian community that grew from Shane Claiborne’s vision. She asked, “Is there anything going on in Cleveland or Akron like The Simple Way?” The woman on the phone responded with “Well, yes. We just had a group travel through Akron and they spent time with the folks at South Street Ministries.” That phone call led to an internet search, an address, and a few cautious drive bys. The address was Duane and Lisa Crabb’s house on South Street. I wasn’t going to pull into the driveway. It is is set back from the street a ways, and there is a daunting hill. It did not match my narrow view of a ministry. But after a closer look at the website, I found the Front Porch Café. I was still just driving by at this point.
All this time Sarah continued to be employed, though the scope of her ministry expanded to family ministries and education. Jumping ship wasn’t an option for Sarah at this point. But the Holy Spirit was working on me. It was a Tuesday in the spring of 2013 that I felt a tap on my shoulder, and the whisper that said, “Go.” So I left my comfortable office in Richfield, drove to Akron, and walked into the Front Porch Café.
“Why are you here?” asked the chef behind the counter. Did my outfit that screamed “I work at an insurance company” tip him off that I wasn’t there to buy a sandwich? I explained that I was here because of a suggestion from The Simple Way. He pointed to a table by the office and said “Talk to Joe.”
Joe Tucker was gracious but cautious about my intentions in getting involved. He explained the ministry and invited me to explore incarnational concepts. Joe started with the hard part. He told me that Jesus lived among the people, and that South Street believes doing life with those whom we serve includes living in the community. He told me the history of Crabbs’ family in the neighborhood, and about the national movement called the Christian Community Development Association. Best of all, he never assumed that I was a potential donor from Hudson. He spoke to my soul.
Going to the first few Sunday services at The Front Porch was even less comfortable than my first few drives around the neighborhood. But I was touched by the authenticity of the people I met. When you ask someone “How are you?,” my previous church’s standard answers were “Good,” “Fine,” and “Another day in paradise.” Ask someone at South Street Ministries or the Front Porch Fellowship, and you might hear “Fantastic, I am 87 days sober,” or “The devil is really working on me these days,” or “I am afraid for my daughter.”
This ministry was and is the closest thing to Biblical truth I have ever witnessed. Name a parable and there is a South Street story that confirms its teaching. The Sower–talk to the re-entry folks whose work is bearing fruit in the community because of good soil. The Woman at the Well–when the Word is offered to everyone no matter their origin or their deeds, people are set free from bondage. The Field–listen to the stories of people who have found the treasure hidden in the city of Akron and in their joy are ‘all in’ for Jesus.
What is my advice to someone who is considering stepping into South Street’s world? Come and see. Sure it is uncomfortable at the onset. It was for me. But that feeling disappears quickly as your eyes open up to the people around you. And then you realize that the Kingdom of God is right here.
“I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor…I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”
― Shane Claiborne, ‘The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical’
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