Marguerite (not her real name) was abused and sold for sex by her own mother when she was just 9 years old. As a result, she has spent decades addicted to drugs and giving birth to children she was unable to mother, not having been mothered herself. Her pain and trauma run deep. Can she be reached? Will her children be caught in a cycle of abuse and follow in her footsteps, or will they find another, better way to live their lives? Our Healthy Harvest Ministries at Edgewood Free Methodist Church in Rochester, New York, seeks to help moms like Marguerite and kids in these situations to find that better way.
Although Edgewood is now a suburban church, Edgewood started out in the city of Rochester, and the church’s people have long had a heart to continue to minister there. Healthy Harvest began as a dream of two medical doctors who serve a hurting population in a city neighborhood. Their vision is “healthy neighborhoods with thriving families, businesses, and churches where people are reconciled to God, self, and others.” Edgewood caught this vision and created the unique position of urban missionary to the city of Rochester. Kim Roth is the person God called to take the dream and vision and make it a ministry. According to Healthy Harvest’s mission statement, “Our strategy is to work with our neighbors in focusing on the strengths and resources of the community in the areas of:
- youth development
- spiritual formation
- economic development
- family empowerment.”
Specifically, Healthy Harvest reaches inner-city families by helping them plant gardens for food, by mentoring children academically and spiritually and guiding them in life basics (such as healthy eating, good manners, respect for self and others). In addition, we provide a Bible Club in an inner-city public school. Approximately 20 kids attend the club. We have also been invited to pray in the school on a monthly basis. We pray on-site for the faculty, staff, students and families as they face daily struggles unique to urban living. Kids come to school hungry or tired or without needed supplies and support. It’s a long day for staff and kids trying to teach and learn in less-than-ideal circumstances.
One of the highlights of the ministry year for Healthy Harvest is sending mentoring students and Bible Club kids to a Christian camp for a week in the summer. Each year lives are changed, decisions are made to live for Jesus and be baptized, and kids continue to grow in their understanding of Jesus’ unconditional love for them. After seven years of ministry, we are beginning to see the fruit of God’s work in the creation of new futures for kids whom society believes are destined to end up in gangs, prison or stuck in generational cycles of poverty.
Edgewood has a rich history, having been started in 1860 by a group of people after they personally met with B.T. Roberts. The group was led by a woman called Sister Babcock who said, “Let’s go out in the name of the Lord” to start the First Free Methodist Church of Rochester, now called Edgewood. Roberts was a strong advocate for equal treatment of persons — whether male or female, rich or poor — and he was passionate about the freedom, dignity and worth of all persons. Roberts said in one of many anti-slavery speeches that “if the church would take hold of the slavery problem in the right way and in the right spirit, that slavery would soon be extirpated from the land” (as recorded in Clarence Howard Zahniser’s book “Earnest Christian: Life and Works of Benjamin Titus Roberts,” which is out of print but can be read online at fmchr.ch/chzahniser).
Edgewood seeks to honor this legacy through its Edgewood Abolitionists who partner with our Healthy Harvest Ministries and with the Set Free Movement of the Free Methodist Church – USA. Our Abolitionists serve in Healthy Harvest through their mentoring program and Bible Club. We are called by God to minister to children like Marguerite so they know they can take a different path in life.
After two years of prayer and seeking God’s direction, the Abolitionists have recently begun hosting and supporting a foster parents support group. We have learned that children in foster care, most of whom have experienced some kind of trauma, are at risk for being trafficked. Statistics show that more than 60% of trafficked youth in the United States have spent some time in foster care (fmchr.ch/sfmaht). In other words, foster parents are on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking. Traumatized youth are vulnerable to those who pretend to care for them in order to exploit them for financial gain. Foster parents seek to minister to children who have faced incredible hardship, abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. This requires strength, unconditional love, peace and hope. We, as Christians, know that this can only be fully realized by faith in Jesus. Edgewood Abolitionists provide a monthly meeting place for foster parents to come together to encourage and support each other, to hear from experts on trauma, and to relax while food and child care are provided for them.
Jesus’ ministry was to “proclaim good news to the poor” and bring freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Regarding this passage of Scripture, B.T. Roberts wrote in the first issue (January 1860) of The Earnest Christian, “He that thus cared for the poor must be from God. In this respect the Church must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. She must see to it that the gospel is preached to the poor. With them, peculiar pains must be taken” (fmchr.ch/earnest1).
Edgewood Free Methodist Church, through its Healthy Harvest Ministries and Edgewood Abolitionists, has embraced this call to ministry. As we minister to the families and neighborhoods God has called us to, we see him changing lives, like those of Marguerite’s children, who faithfully attend church, have been baptized, and are beginning to see all of the possible futures that lie before them.
Daria Roesch is the care and communication pastor at Edgewood FMC. A graduate of Northeastern Seminary, she is an Anglophile who wrote her final seminary paper on “The Theology of Jane Austen.”