Building Community Faith Through Ministry - Mary's Story

Mary Elizabeth Whitlow has a dream to change her rapidly declining community and plans to enlighten, enrich and empower her neighbors by Building Community Faith Through Ministry at Christian Leaders Institute for free and completely online! Here is Mary’s Story…

Building Community Faith Through Ministry – Mary’s Story

My name is Mary Elizabeth Whitlow and I live in Muskegon, Michigan, USA. I have lived in this small city on the shores of Lake Michigan for most of my life. Even when I have left, I keep coming back because my heart and my calling are here. Muskegon has a bit of a reputation in West Michigan. It is too urban, too poor, too demographically mixed, too crime ridden, to fit in well with the small tourist towns around it. I think maybe this place has a lot in common with another place dear to God’s heart, Nazareth. When Jesus began His ministry, their were many who said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I believe God loves the Muskegons and Nazareths of the world because He loves to exalt the humble and despised places as showcases of his glory.
I grew up in one of the tougher neighborhoods of Muskegon. The longer we lived there, the more the demographics changed to poorer, more rundown and rental properties, and more minorities. I was raised in a small church of visionaries and prayer warriors who looked toward a future when Muskegon would be a “city on a hill” shining God’s light across our state, country, and world. However, I grew discouraged by the daily struggle of living in an impoverished, hopeless place. When I left for college, I wanted to be done with inner-city ministry and racial reconciliation. Couldn’t I serve God in some nice, clean, suburban place where people looked like me and I understood the rules?
Circumstances kept bringing me back to Muskegon and back into inner-city, cross-cultural ministry. One summer I spent a month in Detroit, helping to run tutoring and Vacation Bible School programs. My struggles relating to those of other cultural backgrounds led to some misunderstandings that left me deeply wounded and discouraged.
Then, I attended an Urbana missions conference and found myself in a session about racial reconciliation. God showed me clearly that choosing to turn my back on Muskegon and my minority brothers and sisters meant turning away from all He had for me. My journey since then has lead to a year in West Philadelphia with Mission Year and two years teaching in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I am now back in another inner-city neighborhood of Muskegon, praying for God to “move into the neighborhood.”
My particular passion is for teaching the Word of God. I want to light a passion in Christians of all ages to read and study the Bible. So many of our young people in this country stop going to church or following Jesus when they leave home, if not before. Very few of them have any personal devotional life or understanding of what they believe. This is not surprising, since most of their parents do not have these either. My dream is to have multi-generational Bible studies where everyone from elementary students to octogenarians are studying and discussing Bible passages together. I have always wanted to study the Bible more deeply myself and CLI is an open door for me to do this.
I also long for the day when Muskegon will be that “city on a hill.” I want to be part of bringing this about through teaching the Bible, being reconciled, and an instrument of reconciliation, to my brothers and sisters of all cultures in this city, and being part of raising up leaders here from all backgrounds and walks of life. I would love to be part of starting a mentor center in downtown Muskegon…and then another…and another…until God has raised His standard here.

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