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‘Our goal is to show God’s love to everyone we see’

Indiana church helps CityEdge overhaul parks

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 15, 2015


HAZEL PARK — Many teens long to spend spring break in bars and on beaches. But for 24 teens from the youth group at River Valley Church near South Bend, Indiana, their desire was to serve, and serve they did, spending April 6-12 improving two parks in Hazel Park.

They were working with CityEdge Church, a group in Hazel Park that began the restoration of several parks in recent years. The connection came about through Cam Brundage, son of Craig Brundage, the pastor at CityEdge. Cam worships with River Valley Church and saw an opportunity to help his hometown when it came time for the group’s annual LIFE trip — Living Intentionally for Eternity.

“These kids are high school students,” said Cam. “Most of them are seniors or juniors, so they could be in Florida or Cancun or somewhere else partying for spring break. But they decided to come here instead. Now they will have memories that will last them a lifetime.”

Ferndale Free Methodist Church agreed to host the group at its ministry center. Consisting of six adults and 24 kids, the group arrived in a white school bus late April 6 and spent the rest of the week whipping Caledonia Park and the BMX Sports Complex into shape.

“All of these churches” — River Valley, Ferndale Free Methodist and CityEdge — “are working on the same front, despite different denominations or whatever it may be,” Cam said. 

At press time April 8, the plan was to throw a block party for the neighborhood at each park sometime that weekend.

Caledonia Park, also known as Sutar Sutaruk Meyer Park, is at the southeast corner of Caledonia and East Granet. Create the Flame, a state-licensed nonprofit started by one of the founders of CityEdge, helped spearhead its restoration.

The BMX Sports Complex — a series of dirt hills for performing stunts — is located behind a business on the corner of Woodward Heights (Nine 1/2 Mile) and Melville, just west of Dequindre. CityEdge took a vacant field and made the park from scratch in 2013.

At the BMX Sports Complex last week, the kids were raking leaves and clearing away litter that had accumulated during the winter, as well as placing mulch along the walls to create a weed-free barrier. They were also repainting the walls, and one group of kids was working on a huge mural on the back of a building — a silhouette of a biker riding off a hill, with the hill colored in vibrant hues.

Kristen McDonald, a student who aims to major in art, was climbing ladders to work on the mural by hand, despite her fear of heights. She said many of the kids weren’t used to spending this much time with each other, which had been a learning process all its own.

“This is my third year doing a LIFE trip,” McDonald said. “Every year it’s a bit different, with different people coming. So you just adjust. Like this person might be really tired, so you’ll take care of them. It’s about having grace and patience with everyone and yourself. And you know it might be hard at times, but that’s the point. You’re working toward this shared goal that’s really powerful.”

Natalie Freehan was another student working on the mural. She helped plan the trip down to the last detail.

“We sit down every night and talk about what we did today, what we saw, and how we think God is changing our lives,” Freehan said. “We’re with each other constantly all week — sleeping and eating and working. We see each other in our best moments and our worst moments, and I think that’s eye-opening and pretty special.”

Tim Stauss was the youth leader supervising the kids at the BMX Sports Complex on the morning of April 7.

“For the students, I hope that they learn they don’t have to wait to do things that matter,” Stauss said. “If you look at Jesus and the guys gathered around him, many believe that at least some were (the students’) age. So I think it’s a pretty powerful thing for them to realize that they don’t need to wait to do significant things. And sometimes you need to take that three-and-a-half-hour drive, get out of your locale and realize, ‘You know, I can do this, at home and abroad,’ whatever that may be.

“And it’s a practical way for them to live out their faith,” Stauss added. “We want their faith to be strengthened and challenged, but it’s also about practical things, like here’s what it takes to be a well-functioning person contributing to the world. That makes it all worth it.”

At Caledonia Park, the students were busy laying down tiles for a patio and creating a landscaped embankment at the corner for a welcome sign. They were raking and clearing away litter, spiffying up the place.

One of the students, Nick Logan, was helping repaint the play structures. For him, serving others is a way to inspire faith.

“Our goal is to show God’s love to everyone we see,” Logan said.