Oaks of Righteousness
and the Rev. Christina Vance (MDiv 2010)
We joined the post-graduation Ambridge moving marathon with everyone else in May 2010, cramming our moving van full of theological books, donated “barn” furniture, and a few ukuleles. Our plan was simple—find jobs, a place to live, a launch team, and financial supporters. Then, plant a church.
The Lord gave us his vision to make disciples of both college students and the poor of Troy, a city of 50,000 in upstate New York. We had the support of our bishop, the Rt. Rev. William Love, and a passage of Scripture that seemed to follow us everywhere: Isaiah 61:1-4. With the Lord, it was more than enough.
Nothing went as we planned, and yet God was in charge of it all—providing, protecting, redirecting. We led a house church for eight months until we sensed the Holy Spirit saying, “Stop the house church. Just take a guitar and Bible and sing and pray under the bridge.” We obeyed, despite doubts. We found ourselves drawn to a nearby city park and began summer cookouts.
Suddenly, we found ourselves surrounded by neighborhood children whose daily realities are abandonment, police raids, drugs, abuse, profanity, sex, lies, retaliation, and fear. We told them about Jesus. They asked for more. And just like that, we were priests in search of a flock no more.
Through it all, God provided astoundingly. He gave us jobs and a home. He connected us with college students brave enough to burst through the academic bubble and go into the “hood.” And when the winter hit, the Lord led us to a closed diner and provided the financial means to open its doors.
Oaks Café & Ministry Center opened in March 2012. We try to embody kingdom love and forgiveness. We feed hungry kids with both physical and eternal bread. Many who attend Sunday Eucharist have never prayed before. We sing and tell them stories about Jesus. So many times, we’ve heard them gasp when we say, “Did you know he came back to life?”
The Lord formed us for this work, and Trinity played a huge part in that formation. We learned so much about our Missionary God revealing his big story through the Scriptures. We often joke that we hear different Trinity professors’ voices in our heads reminding us of Scripture or tradition. And, our classmates (now colleagues) are still there to pray with us and share their wisdom with us.
We don’t know if this ministry will become a church plant, but we can see the Lord Jesus using it to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, and to set prisoners free. May these precious souls—the Lord’s oaks of righteousness—grow from Troy soil. And may God receive all the glory.
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