GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Twenty-plus years ago Merri and I planted a church on the northwest side of Grand Rapids, called Westwood Community Church. It began in the urban northwest, but a facility opened in the suburb westside, so we took the opportunity to relocate there. Over a number of years, the ministry established itself, we paid off our building and served the community, sharing the gospel. Likewise, Merri and I settled, purchased a home and raised our two sons while continuing to serve at Westwood. We also worked with a team to plant other churches. Through that network, a number of churches were planted. Merri and I became grandparents, and we continued to serve at Westwood. But then something happened that would ultimately change everything.
Through the influence of our Urban Church Planting Teams and community connections, I began seeing the deep needs in the Urban westside of Grand Rapids. By MapQuest it is only about three and a half miles, but in the distance of three miles, a whole different world emerged to me, defined by beauty and brokenness. The more we served here, the more we felt called to join our urban church planting team CrossWinds, and add a westside congregation.
It has been two years since we made that decision, and it is difficult to summarize the journey in a short article. We left our suburb ministry, we began serving in the urban setting, we sold our house and moved to the city, and are coming up on a year since we have launched our Sunday morning service. Here are some of the exciting things I love and also find challenging.
We are Together
Many people in my neighborhood don’t have cars. As a result, I see them on a regular basis. There are single moms, their boyfriends, neighborhood teens, and my neighbors. I see them multiple times a week and seek to speak Jesus into their lives.
A young couple, homeless with baby in December, not knowing where they were going to sleep that night in below zero temperatures.
A neighbor with PTSD from combat struggling with forgiveness.
A homeless teen living with a relative who has a serious drinking problem.
One attendee stabbing another neighborhood friend multiple times.
And on and on in brokenness.
A group of neighborhood teens who come without any relatives, set up, help run the church service, and afterwards break down. Young men (bigger than me) who are eagerly welcoming an older man speak into their lives. Merri reading the Bible with neighborhood ladies who know virtually nothing about Jesus, church, or anything related to that.
And for all these things we are thankful to be a part of it.
The prospect of leaving much that was familiar to us, was hard to envision. Many of my friends are at the stage where they are finishing, not starting major life projects. The call was too compelling though, and we always felt that the best place to be, no matter where that was, was the center of God’s will.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Bradley and Merri are North American Mission Board missionaries in Grand Rapids Michigan. They have been involved in Church Planting for over 25 years. They have 2 children and four grandchildren and are completing the Second year of their adventure at CrossWinds West Side. Follow their community on FB at facebook.com/cwindswestside