UrbanFaith, published by UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has teamed up with HarperCollins Christian Publishing to launch UrbanFaithStudy.com, a subscription-based digital platform with an expanding library of more than 100 video sermons and studies from well-known African American Christian voices. We know it’s hard for young adults to find churches they feel welcomed in and even harder to find leaders they can trust to teach the Word in a way they can hear and understand it. UrbanFaithStudy.com provides the empowering teaching you want that stays faithful while being relevant.
“I am pleased to see this robust and unique platform featuring strong voices and transformative messages by African American pastors and authors,” remarked Jeff Wright, CEO of UMI. “I know it will be a blessing to many people.”
UrbanFaithStudy.com offers culturally relevant, topical sermons delivered by pastors such as Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III; Dr. Dominique Robinson; and husband and wife team Pastor Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Pastor Andrew Wilkes. Bishop Walker is the International Presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship and pastor of the historic 30,000-member Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. Dr. Robinson is a religious scholar, theological educator, preacher, writer, activist, and advocate who serves as an assistant professor of preaching at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. HBCU and Ivy League-educated pastors Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Andrew Wilkes co-founded the Double Love Experience Church in Brooklyn, NY, a growing congregation of believers committed to the liberating, love-powered ministry of Jesus.
“What an extraordinary opportunity to house digital archives of hope & possibility in the era of a global pandemic, racial reckoning & resilience. It is my prayer that the sermons we offer will help those who hear them know that God has not left them. Even in these times. To share this in partnership with two brands that curate accessible & timely content: UMI & HarperCollins [Christian] is a dream.” – -Pastor Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes
UrbanFaithStudy.com will also launch book study curricula for believers looking for deeper engagement and group study content that engages the church with culturally relevant topics. These curricula are by well-known African American voices, including New York Times bestselling author Jemar Tisby; beloved author and speaker Crystal Evans Hurst; Grammy Award-winning artist Lecrae; and Bible teacher, pastor, and author, Jada Anae Edwards.
“When teaming up with UMI more than a year ago, we knew creating a video platform to host engaging, life-changing biblical content would showcase both organizations’ ability to reach new audiences,” said Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “The church is evolving, becoming more dependent on technology to deliver sermons, Bible studies, and other curricula. When designing UrbanFaithStudy.com, we used our strengths to achieve more than we could if we had each approached the project separately.”
UrbanFaithStudy.com will serve many consumers, including church congregations, divinity students, young preachers, and individuals seeking to understand how faith informs cultural engagement. The monthly subscription is $5.95 for individuals and $19.95 for churches. To subscribe, visit UrbanFaithStudy.com.
Believers in Kenya having a church meeting underneath a tree using materials from Urban Ministries, Inc.
How many of us have an old Bible on a bookshelf, a stack of old curriculum stashed in a closet, or several years of commentaries stored away in a desk? Did you know that in Africa and other parts of the world, some people are willing to walk miles just to get even one of those older pieces of Biblical literature?
Love Packages, a nondenominational nonprofit, takes on the arduous task of sending more than 1,500 tons of donated curriculum each year from churches and individuals nationwide to people all over the world who desperately seek them. They’ve got two warehouses – one in Decatur, Alabama, and one in Butler, Illinois. At various collection points around each state, people bring their used Biblical literature in any way they can – in horse trailers, cars, vans, trucks, and tractor trailers. Nine major publishing houses, including Urban Ministries, Inc., also make donations. Once the materials reach the Love Packages warehouses, more than 1,000 volunteers go through it and sort it into six categories: Bibles, reference materials, Sunday School literature, books, magazines, and daily devotionals (music/tracts/miscellaneous). Then, in the host countries, the materials are delivered in ocean-shipping containers to distribution points where various ministries, such as Every Home for Christ Assemblies of God or Evangelical Fellowship, distribute it.
The organization’s website is filled with testimonials from all over the world. One from South Africa this past February reads: “We had meetings last week at New Stock Road. After the preaching at the campaign, 46 people gave their lives to Jesus and we gave them the Christian material that we got from you, and also the little booklet of John and Romans, it was a great time of joy. Love in Jesus Name.”
Steve Schmidt, the founder of Love Packages, shared an experience he had on a visit to Zambia in 1999. It started when he read an article about the first elected president Frederick Chiluba, who was explaining that he was a born again Christian and he wanted to do everything in his power to bring the principles, precepts and powers of God to bear on his country. However, he didn’t have any literature. He wrote a letter to President Chiluba explaining his organization and he was invited to visit the country to help them out. When he met with a Bishop who oversaw 700 churches, he learned that most of the pastors didn’t have a Bible and none had Sunday School materials.
“That was in ‘99. We’ve improved that some. We’ve sent about 400 tons of literature into Zambia and we’ve been shipping into Zimbabwe now too,” said Schmidt, who said in general they ship 20 to 40 tons of literature every week. The 20-ton containers they use cost between $3,500 to $9,000. “Every 20-ton container has at least a half a million pieces of literature in it.”
A distribution center overseas receives commentaries from Urban Ministries, Inc.
Schmidt started Love Packages in the summer of 1975. He had four-year-old old Bibles and initially thought he’d use it to prepare lessons. But God had other plans.
“I argued with the Lord for about three months. Told him I was going to use it to prepare lessons. He said, ‘No, you’re not,’” said Schmidt, who questioned, “Who am I going to give an old Bible to? I don’t know anybody who wants it.”
But then he thought of some men who had just graduated from a Bible college and were going home to their home countries in Ghana, Nigeria, India, and various other countries. He wrote them a letter, asking if they had any need for old Biblical literature.
“I didn’t know there was a great need,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t know anything! But the letters seemed like they were only gone a couple of days and they were back, and said, ‘Yes, we can use as much as we can get here, as soon as you can get it here.’”
Schmidt and his wife started in the basement of their home and in the first year sent 60 little boxes overseas from August to January. As he went to various small church events held in his community, from the Baptist chicken dinner to the Methodist Pancake breakfast, the donations started to pour in. By the second year, people began dropping off boxes on their front and back porches and their living room was full of boxes.
“It grew that second year to three and a half tons. And then, the next year, seven tons, and eleven tons… And our goal for 2020 is to ship 2,020 tons!” said Schmidt. “Even with COVID-19, we’re still at 660 tons of literature that we shipped this year so far. And that’s just the literature that’s being used in different places. We’ll send enough literature this year for about somewhere between 60 and 80 million people to read.”
Between the two states in Alabama and Illinois, Love Packages maintains three full-time staff members in each state and is supported entirely by donations from churches and individuals. Youth groups or men/women ministries going on short-term mission trips, and even families in Illinois at the Butler warehouse are able to come and stay in two dormitories, one with 25-30 rooms and the other 10-15 rooms. Groups can stay for up to a week.
“You can eat dinner with us. There’s probably a hundred or so stories. We have a chalkboard and there are stories about different testimonies that happened and people who got saved or healed or got a book for the first time or etc. And we tell stories during the lunchtime and try to encourage people to think eternally and pursue God with all their hearts,” said Schmidt.
It’s been eight years since I transitioned from active duty after serving as a Marine Corps officer. I spent 12 years of my adult life training in a military environment, and growing as a leader and mentor. Basic leadership principles were engrained in me as a college student at the U.S. Naval Academy. Some of these principles were as follows:
Mentoring is a necessary requirement for great leadership.
Mentoring is critical to the success of accomplishing a mission.
Because I was willing to learn, I thrived as a leader and those in my areas of influence benefited as a result. My mentors helped me find my purpose, and I have carried their instructions throughout life.
When given the opportunity to lead at church, I was concerned that mentoring generally was not happening in many congregations. I particularly noticed this with older church members, because they didn’t believe they had anything to offer. Some neglected the responsibility because no one mentored, trained, or taught them. They simply didn’t know what to do.
I also found that others were too busy with the temporal stresses of their own lives to focus on the needs of another. All the while I was receiving correspondences about how desperately people longed for mentoring in their church. So, as a response to these soul cries, I decided to change the narrative.
What if the people of God started to approach mentoring as intentional discipleship? Mentoring does not happen haphazardly. It requires intentionality, preparation, patience, prayer, and yes, mentoring can be a lot of work. But, what if we made a commitment to mentor anyway because it is necessary for advancing God’s kingdom mission? Every Christian has a responsibility to mentor and make disciples!
Matthew 28:19-20 reads: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (NIV).”
The biblical imperative in this statement is to “make disciples.” Among Jesus’ last words was the command to make disciples of diverse groups as his followers went about their daily rituals. This is the Great Commission.
Likewise, Jesus taught his disciples that the entire law of the prophets and the Old Testament was summarized in the Great Commandment—the command to love (Matt. 22:37). The commitment to love is relational between us, God, and other people.
When we commit to mentoring as intentional discipleship, we are embracing both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. This commitment collectively builds us up as a community of believers in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). The church desperately needs every believer engaged in this mission, as does the world.
I agree with worship leader and author Darlene Zschech that, “It is my deepest desire to remind leaders everywhere that the kingdom of God is about people and that we are not here to build our own kingdoms but to bring God’s kingdom into the lives of others.” Will you make the commitment to mentor for God’s kingdom purposes? Here’s how you can get started:
Before choosing his 12 disciples, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). If you are wondering who the Lord is calling you to mentor, ask him.
Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship is a book written just for people like you. Gather with a group of friends or church leaders and go through this book together. It includes discussion questions, exercises, and resources to help you get started. Another great way to discover why and how your work matters to God is to download apps like UMI Connection for helpful resources.
Maybe you want to go a little deeper to launch or revamp a small group, discipleship, or mentoring ministry, then check out my site to download free training resources or consider leadership consulting or mentoring coaching for your leadership team.
4. Press On
Don’t let fear paralyze you. In my early days, as a young military officer, I had been adequately prepared, yet I also made mistakes. Give yourself grace as you get on-the-job training in this new adventure.
The need is urgent. You are called for God’s kingdom mission of mentoring. Will you answer?