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Urban L’Abri

"Urban L’Abri" Continued...

Issue: "Reaping a whirlwind," Aug. 24, 2013

Mennonites started the ministry in 1969, in a different part of the Bronx, but Hope moved to a yellow brick house on this particular block of University Heights in 1984. Several years later Hope bought another house across the street to use for people who came to the ministry with HIV. Much of Hope’s work during those years emphasized giving a home and the gospel to people who were dying. One man with HIV reconciled with his wife the year before he died: Roberts remarried them in his living room. Hope stopped housing people with HIV as the city developed public services in the 1990s.

Today, Hope has no one type of resident—it has hosted illegal immigrants, the homeless, and the well-to-do who fell prey to one substance or another—but the story of one graduate, Dwayne Hobbs, shows how stress and grace often work. Abandoned at birth and then adopted, Hobbs as a teenager joined a gang on Long Island and started selling drugs. Living in a crack house, which he described as “100 percent chaos,” Hobbs became desperate to escape his situation and called out to God to help, if He existed. A Catholic nun showed up in the kitchen of the crack house one day and asked to host a Bible study there. 

Hobbs says God began working in his heart through that study, but he wasn’t convinced yet. He tried going through one rehab program, but it frustrated him, and someone mentioned Hope as an option. He contacted Hope and began to think about recognizing and responding to God’s calling in his life. Hobbs ate up the teaching at Hope—“I wish I had went to this place right out of high school, with no drugs or baggage,” he said—and changed his rap name to Malachi Monster: Malachi meaning “my messenger” and monster, in Hobbs’ interpretation, means he “went hard for the other side.” 

Hope’s close tie to Bronx Household of Faith helped too: Hobbs would recognize people from church in the neighborhood, which he said helped hold him accountable. Two years out of the program he went to work for Youth With a Mission, but the University Heights neighborhood kept pulling him back. He loves the kids there and volunteers at a local youth sports ministry: A little posse follows him around. At 37, Hobbs just received his undergraduate degree in the mail from Liberty University, after doing all the work online, and he’s now looking for a new job, hoping to work with young people in the neighborhood.

INTENTIONAL LIVING: Hope residents sharing a meal.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
INTENTIONAL LIVING: Hope residents sharing a meal.
Students take a test during class.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Students take a test during class.
Jack Roberts has been leading Hope Christian Center since 1976.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Jack Roberts has been leading Hope Christian Center since 1976.
Dwayne Hobbs graduated from Hope then earned an undergraduate degree from Liberty University.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Dwayne Hobbs graduated from Hope then earned an undergraduate degree from Liberty University.
Men enrolled in the program live in the yellow brick house in phases one through three.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Men enrolled in the program live in the yellow brick house in phases one through three.
Assistant Director David Mapes leads afternoon chapel.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Assistant Director David Mapes leads afternoon chapel.
Hope Christian Center has been an establishment in the University Heights neighborhood since 1984.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Hope Christian Center has been an establishment in the University Heights neighborhood since 1984.
Jack Roberts, his wife, Patricia, and eight of their 13 children outside their home.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Jack Roberts, his wife, Patricia, and eight of their 13 children outside their home.
The new building for The Bronx Household of Faith is near-completion.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
The new building for The Bronx Household of Faith is near-completion.

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Listen to a report on Hope Christian Center that aired on The World and Everything in It:

Follow this year’s Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition and vote for the ministry you believe deserves the 2013 award .

Money box

• 2012 income: $325,113

• 2012 expenses: $296,892

• Net assets at the end of June 2012: $136,416

• Executive director Jack Roberts’ salary: $50,000

• Staff: Five employees and three regular volunteers 

• Website: hopecenterny.org

Mass Reformation

Jack Roberts’ L’Abri experience helped to make him a Reformed evangelical, but he notes a problem: “The whole Reformed model has been geared toward the educated elite. … It can’t be just for educated people.” He guesses that out of several thousand men who have come through his program, fewer than five had college degrees.

Roberts thinks Reformed churches should start addressing the gap by offering seminary scholarships to minorities–especially to African-Americans and Latinos–on the condition that they return to minister in neighborhoods like University Heights for five years. He stipulates that the seminaries must be biblically faithful: “I know an African-American who received such a scholarship to a liberal seminary and has been in a liberal denomination ever since.” He wants Reformed denominations to support minority church planters in these neighborhoods, and churches to pool resources to create evening Bible schools. 

He concludes that church worship services should help those in the community feel at home—not exactly reflecting the surrounding subculture, but “The language of the messenger must be in words that are accessible to the listener.” Reformation doctrines should be explained “in ways that are faithful to the content … and yet not with vocabulary that is foreign to the student.” —E.B.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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