History matters. It lays a foundation for everything that is to come. We've noticed that for a lot of the "big box" mission organizations that offer urban mission trips, their story starts something like this...
Youth worker realizes that students are more impacted by serving on a mission trip than anything else the youth worker does. Youth worker quits church-based youth ministry to start a new missions organization to facilitate these experiences so that students can be impacted AND make an impact on other people who have some kind of need. Now the organization is now able to facilitate (broker) these trips in multiple communities with groups from all over the country. The trip brokering organization partners (substitute "collaborates," "cooperates," or other word that implies a close and active relationship) with needy churches and community organizations on the front lines of ministry to a needy community in a city with lots of need. Today, this organization is helping lots of people in lots of places through lots of trips with lots of students.
Our story starts a little differently... and leads to a very different kind of mission trip.
It starts with a youth worker who came out of the projects of LA and in the early 90's, after Bible college, was recruited for church plant in one of the most diverse communities in the United States. The youth worker had a passion for "at-risk" youth. He was relentless in his pursuit of resources to fund effective programs to engage the inner-city youth between 16 and 24 who were falling out and headed for lives of crime, victimization, and poverty. Pastor Pete became known on-campus, in the rescue mission, on the asphalt basketball courts, the football fields of urban high schools, and to the gangs as someone who genuinely and passionately cared for the welfare of the broken, lost, and hurting on the streets of San Diego.
Others joined and left this team, including another youth worker with a calling to help young people and their families discover their purpose and promise in Christ. His skill with experiential-based teaching and an enthusiasm for innovating ways others could "get it" added a new dimension to an already effective strategy that was being employed in the church. He immediately gravitated to the urban mission trips and saw their value to "bridge the gap" between the urban and suburban church.
Two of the biggest challenges in urban ministry are: 1) the bottomless pit of material need AND 2) the lack of resources for ministry. So, instead of just asking for money from suburban churches, one of the strategies of this team was to actually bring suburban churches alongside them to do ministry in the community. This had multiple benefits. The mission teams were able to contribute to ministry that was tangible and obviously on-going. They helped build a bridge of service, ministry, outreach, AND resource from the suburbs to the inner-city of San Diego. The mission teams were exposed to profoundly simple and effective methods of outreach that, out of necessity, relied more on relationships and face-to-face contact than programs, events, and flyers. This broke down stereotypes about "those people." It challenged values related to possessions, giving, and serving. They left trained with experience-tested transferable skills that could be exercised in their own community. For the inner-city church, to leverage the manpower and enthusiasm of the group for Kingdom work was important and accomplished much. But beyond that, the trips also provided a critical source of revenue that could help fund sustainable ministry in the long-term.
Both of these youth workers eventually left the church plant.
The youth worker from the projects of LA remained in the community. He and his family became involved in a church that was strategically positioned to serve urban poor of downtown. He raised his family in the community of City Heights and became well-known for the warm welcome everyone received in his home. His passion for youth did not waver, nor did his vision to bring others alongside the various outreach ministries that he developed. He continued to bring mission teams into San Diego to expand Kingdom work and provide resources for ministry. Pastor Pete remained faithful to the same community and ministry sites that he had served from the beginning. Ultimately, God called him to plant a church with a new vision.
The DNA of New Vision as a church is tied closely to heart, attitude, and methods employed by Pete Contreras, his choice to live where served, and the way his family extends welcome and respect to all people. Community, collaboration, service, and outreach are distinctive qualities at New Vision. We don't have to write these on a wall because it is evident. Pete's gratitude for God's kindness, goodness, mercy, grace, and for His many blessings are present in every prayer along the way. The church grew, first in his backyard, then a school, then a warehouse. At every stage, mission teams were part of the story and helped amplify the new church's ministry. Then came an unprecedented merge and act of Kingdom work... a 3 year old independent urban church plant was virtually given a valuable multi-million dollar property in a strategic location, access to a fleet of 15-passenger vans, and ministry space galore.
The other youth worker, Mike Haskins, and his wife Amy, was called away from San Diego. God sent on a 16 year journey to walk through a crisis of faith, deal with personal mess, accumulate a unique skill set, find renewal in his call to equip and encourage families, parent "at-risk" foster kids, and after much waiting... have a child of their own.
His passion and desire to serve in the city remained, even as God sent him to serve in an economically depressed rural area. After three years of youth and worship ministry, he spent another three years working on his own plans (organizational consulting) and had the opportunity to work for Apple as a trainer. It was for "such a time as this" that God brought their family back to San Diego. It was quickly evident that everything in the past 16 years had been preparing their family to come back and serve in San Diego with New Vision.
The past three years have seen miracles of provision, healing, and reconciliation. New Vision is a very diverse congregation in a very diverse community. We have a unique blend of socio-economics that spans from homeless individuals, through business owners and professionals, to doctors and lawyers. Respect is given to everyone regardless of their circumstance, need, or mess. There is an enormous amount of Kingdom work that happens here despite severely limited resources and a painfully high cost of living. We are a mess... a glorious mess that God uses to demonstrate His kindness, goodness, mercy, and grace, and His many blessings.
This has also been an incredible journey with a rapid expansion of our urban missions program. We have grown from just a handful of trips each year during spring break and summer to a steady flow of trips year round. We will have had more than 2000 participants by the end of 2015. Collaboration has expanded our network of ministry partners and given us credibility in our community. Mission teams are able to come alongside a thriving food distribution ministry, a new church plant, numerous community and ministry partners, and many other ministries.