Jan 19, 2023 Print This Article

Being a People of Hope

A Pastor’s Task in Flint, Mich.

“Christian Jones, missionary at large, Ann Arbor, Mich., deployed to the Franklin Avenue Mission in Flint, Mich., Michigan District.” The announcement of Rev. Christian Jones’ placement echoes throughout the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary on Call Day in 2019.

Now, almost four years after earning a Master of Divinity from the Seminary, Jones is executive director of the Flint Mission Network, which comprises the Franklin Avenue Mission, York Avenue Mission and two strategic partnerships: Wellspring Lutheran Services, which helps run the mission network’s Mercy House, a transitional housing ministry for homeless mothers and children, and The Luke Clinic, which provides free prenatal and antenatal care for mothers and infants.

Within the city of Flint, the Flint Mission Network is located in incredibly impoverished neighborhoods. “People are living in abandoned houses with no affordable source of groceries, a lack of schools and limited access to health care,” Jones says. “We’re trying to provide basic resources in our community as a way to love and serve our neighbor, especially in the midst of the gangs, shootings and drugs.”

Jones leads the Reformation service and launch of the Flint Mission Network at York Avenue Mission Oct. 31, 2022.

These very real situations of ministry began right away for Jones, almost as soon as he and his family arrived in Flint.

“In my first six months of ministry, a 3-year-old was shot and killed up the street. He was the same age as my daughter at the time,” Jones remembers, tears welling in his eyes. “I was a young Seminary grad, visiting this family and thinking, ‘How can we walk together? How can we share our lives together in a way that produces hope?’”

So how does Jones do it? How does he minister in this hurting, broken community?

“Of course, there’s the typical Lutheran answer: our baptismal identity,” he says. “It’s nice to go around with our catechisms and say ‘You can be God’s child, too! You want to be baptized? Let’s go to the font!’ We can do those kinds of things, but the question is, so what? A 3-year-old child was shot. A mission member is hooked on crack. A girl is selling herself on the street. What sort of impact is our baptismal identity having there?”

Jones admits it is challenging. “We have to think about what it means to be Christians in our community,” he says. “What is our baptismal identity about? It is about our hope in Christ Jesus.”

Jones says his Seminary experience helped prepare him for his current ministry.

Jones and Flint Mission Network children hang out on the playground at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth, Mich., during a field trip. Photos: Courtesy Jones

“Some of the best Seminary experiences I had were through my field education assignment. I was placed at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in north St. Louis with Dr. John Schmidtke before he passed away in May 2022. Schmidtke was the guy who put me in a van and said, ‘You’re going to drive up to that project over there, pick up the kids and bring them to church.’ And I thought to myself, ‘OK, this is terrifying. Don’t people get shot here?’ And they do. And we still went and shared the Gospel and our lives together.”

Jones reflects on the impact his mentor had on him.

“Schmidtke taught me by just sending me to go do it,” Jones recalls. “His entire focus was bringing the hope of Jesus to neighbors, kids and families regardless of their circumstance. So now, I go to an apartment with a mom, her boyfriend, seven kids, two bedrooms. You can literally see the dirt on the ground through the floor. And I sit there and I talk with them. When I go into these communities and kids see me, they scream ‘Pastor!’ I have that definitive identity as the one who goes and spends time with them and engages in their lives.”

Jones recounts a recent visit he made to one of his members who was in the hospital. In the same room with her was a 68-year-old woman who was sick and frail. “Though a member of a Baptist congregation, she had no pastor, no family, and she was dying,” he says. “My member and I were able to — not even metaphorically, but literally — pull the curtain back and start sharing what we were going through in the hospital room. 

“We were sharing the really big worries and questions of life together outside the walls of the church with someone who didn’t have anyone.

“When I went to visit again, the roommate said, ‘Pastor, I’m tired. I’m ready to go.’ I asked her, ‘Can I anoint you and remind you of the promises you have received in Christ Jesus?’ ‘Yes, Pastor, I’d like that.’ So I made the sign of the cross with my olive oil on her forehead and reminded her of her baptismal identity. I shared the Gospel with her in a very tangible way.”

The work of sharing the Gospel continues for Jones and the Flint Mission Network.

“I’m very thankful for those who have come along with us,” Jones says. “We have about 18 partner congregations that send volunteers. We minister to so many people, especially expecting and homeless mothers, through our strategic partnerships. Sharing our lives certainly includes inviting people over for barbeques and fun stuff like that. But, it’s more than that. It’s sharing where we’ve been and what we’re going through. It’s communicating the hope we have in Jesus. It’s who we are. We are people of hope.”

To learn more about Jones’ ministry and the Flint Mission Network, visit flintmissionnetwork.org.

Deaconess Rebekah Lukas is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis