Most Christians view Western Michigan as the perfect place to raise a family. Grand Rapids is conservative, family-friendly community blessed with strong churches, Christian schools, Christian colleges, and an abundance of Christian nonprofit ministries. But just beyond the Beltine and the Ford Freeway, inner-city neighborhoods are plagued with violent crime, public schools that seem like “drop-out” factories, rising unemployment, chronic poverty, soaring teen pregnancies, and gang-related killings.
The mission of Urban Transformation Ministries (UTM) is to redeem urban youth, families, and communities with the transforming gospel of Christ. UTM reaches out to approximately 200-250 high-risk inner-city children, teens and young adults in Grand Rapids on an annual basis through sports outreaches, small-group Bible studies, mentoring, summer camping, employment assistance and crisis interventions. Our latest program, Man-Up, assists at-risk urban young men to become self-sufficient by developing life-skills, financial budgeting, personal goal setting, and employment assistance within a residential environment, while providing spiritual and emotional support through counseling, mentoring relationships, and Bible studies. The goal of Man-Up is to challenge urban young men to become loving and responsible Dads, and positive Christian leaders in their community.
Our students are a conglomeration of athletes, gang-members, single teen moms, drug-dealers, rappers, and musicians along with their younger brothers, sisters, and cousins..…most of which come from single-parent families. Almost all have seen crime and violence first hand…those who are older have had several of their friends and family shot and killed on the streets of Grand Rapids.
Through the mentoring relationships and programs of UTM, many gang-members and drug dealers have turned from the streets and have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Several students from UTM have graduated from colleges such as Grand Valley St., Western Michigan University, Cornerstone University, Grace College, and Ball St. University. Others have obtained living-wage jobs and are reaching back into their neighborhoods, helping to diffuse the violence and modeling a better alternative to the street life of gangs and dealing drugs.
Raising up urban leaders that reach back into communities of need is UTM’s answer to the violent crime and gang-related killings that plague inner-city Grand Rapids.