DETROIT, Mich. – After fighting back from a record bankruptcy, the city of Detroit is in the middle of a comeback. While much credit for this turnaround will go to government leaders and big companies, it's often the neighborhood leaders who make the true difference.
Revitalization Takes Time
CBN News learned how an inner city ministry known as the "Good News Gang" is helping remake Motown.
Revitalizing a major metro area like Detroit’s takes time. While you will see beautifully remodeled homes in some neighborhoods, others only offer dilapidated buildings, piles of trash and empty streets.
Still recovering from its 2013 bankruptcy, this city built for nearly two million residents, now has less than 700,000.
Growing Pockets of Life
In the Motown areas showing signs of life, you’ll likely find one man who's a literal driving force. Pastor Matt Cripps of Metro Life Church wants these pockets of life to grow in the right way.
That’s why he and his team of bus drivers head to inner-city neighborhoods known for drugs, violence, and gangs – to show kids a different way of life.
At Metro Life Church, they call their fleet of 10 buses, "soul-winning machines." They travel throughout the Detroit area, picking up children to be a part of the Good News Gang.
Good News Gang
"Good morning! What's up, John?" Cripps greets a grinning Good News Gang attendee as he climbs aboard the bus.
"What's up, young lady? How are you?" Cripps asks another passenger.
"What's up, sweet lady? You can't smile?" the serious girl answers Cripps' questions with a grin.
"There you go, all right," he responds, and then it's on to the next stop.
It often takes a little prodding to get kids out and on the bus especially on a cool, rainy Saturday morning. The faithful pastor honks the horn throughout the journey, but no one seems to mind.
Cripps and his volunteers say the extra coaxing is definitely worth it.
"And we want to see their lives radically transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Cripps shared with CBN News. "And throughout the week, we're knocking on their doors; we're praying with their families; we're inviting them to Good News Gang, and most importantly, we're establishing a relationship."
"That's the most important thing is that they see Jesus in us 'cause for most of them, for most of these children, we're the only Jesus they'll ever, ever know," he explained.
CBN News spoke with parents at a couple of the bus stops. Elsie Wilson's children have been part of the Good News Gang for five years.
"Pastor Matt has a nice way of working with the children, and I had a great experience when I was with Pastor Matt, so I just feel like it's a fun and a good experience to get the children out on Saturdays and away from all of the violence and crime that's in the neighborhood," she said.
At first, Edward and Sharlita Martin took a little flack for taking part.
"When I first met Pastor Matt, right, a lady down the street was like, 'You let your kids get on the bus with that man? You know that's a white man, right?'" Edward shared.
"I said, 'That don't have anything to do with it. He's a Godly man,'" Edward continued. "That's what I look at; I look at the Godliness. I don't care about what color you are."
"That don't have anything to do with church, Christ, and Jesus 'cause we're all the same in the eyes of God," he said.
Sharing the Gospel
Back at the church, the kids file into a huge room with prizes and fun activities like a dance contest.
Good News Gang averages more than 200 children each weekend. While they enjoy the fun and games, the main focus is sharing the Gospel.
On this day, they showed a Superbook video on the Tower of Babel and the Day of Pentecost.
Afterward, CBN Field Ministry Rep. Ken Schad, who is also a children's pastor, led the kids in a salvation prayer to receive Jesus as their Savior.
"If you really believe what you just said, you're ready for resurrection power. And I want you to repeat after me: 'Jesus, give me resurrection power!'" Schad exclaimed when leading the kids in another prayer.
Bringing Joy and Hope
Following the prayer time, Cripps talked about the importance of getting good grades in school.
"How did you get to go to the A and B party?" he asked one girl.
"If I'm getting A's and B's on my report card," she responded.
Then they finished up with a prize giveaway and pizza.
Children ages 4 to 12 take part in the Good News Gang every Saturday. Next year, the program turns 30. Cripps has been leading the ministry for nearly 20 years.
"I just want everyone to know that we love Jesus – that's our motivation is to share the love of Jesus to the city of Detroit, a city that's labeled as hopeless, and everyone has written off," he said.
"But we know that God has not written these people off," he continued. "He has a plan and a purpose for their lives, and he uses his Church to bring that hope to these people, to these families."
"I think all of my friends and any other kids that see this should come here," Good News Gang attendee Kiera Robinson told CBN News. "It's fun; you'll have a good time; you'll learn about the Lord, and altogether, it's just really fun."
"My favorite thing about Good News Gang is worshipping God and learning great things about him," shared Decondi Clifton, another attendee.
Cripps says they have a saying that they want the kids to experience heaven at Good News Gang – heaven away from tough situations at home.
"Many of them come from homes that are filled with despair and hopelessness, but we know that through Jesus Christ there is hope," he declared.