Often when we say “yes” to a challenge, that’s when God takes us on an incredible journey. That’s what happened when 18 New Covenant Middle School students took the SALT challenge in January 2022.
SALT — which stands for Student And Leadership Training — is a semester-long discipleship program for Middle Schoolers. SALT students invest significant time in their walk with Jesus through accountability partners, memorizing Scripture, in-depth Bible study, and a community-focused capstone project. All of it adds up to intentional spiritual growth for these students, and ultimately, being prepared to take their faith out into the community.
“Through the time we spent together over the semester, I saw our students grow in really exciting ways,” says Justin Fortune, Middle School Director at NCBC. “They came hungry and ready! I could see so much readiness in them — readiness to engage the world with their faith, both inside and out of church.“
For the group’s capstone event, the New Covenant SALT team partnered with local nonprofit organization Matthew 25, a group committed to strengthening and elevating neighborhoods on the west side of Cedar Rapids. Matthew 25 was essential in the effort of rehabbing homes and reestablishing lives in Cedar Rapids’ Time Check neighborhood following the flood of 2008. Today, the area’s journey of finding and restoring its potential continues, with the SALT students lending able hands and eager hearts.
“Collaborating with Matthew 25 provided a community partner that knew exactly what its neighborhood residents needed,” Justin says. “They were in the process of reopening the Cultivate Hope Corner Store, a non-profit grocery store with reduced prices, and it was the perfect place for our middle schoolers to get to work.”
And so they did! On April 8 and 9, the students gathered near the store, first handing out invitation cards to a free community barbecue event they would host later that evening. The students prayed that people would be moved to attend this free meal, opening an opportunity to meet local families and share God’s love with them.
Then they enthusiastically poured themselves into the physical work at hand: clearing out trash and pulling weeds from the urban garden area, and even establishing a compost pit. Next, the team refreshed the basement of the newly-opened grocery store with a fresh coat of paint.
As the afternoon shifted into evening, barbecue preparations were soon underway. But before the cookout even began, a family was spotted coming down the sidewalk. “Some students and I rushed over to invite this family to dinner,” Justin recounts. “And then we heard them say, ‘No English.’ But thanks to the help of an over-the-phone language translator, we succeeded in welcoming them to the barbecue.”
Soon the family’s young children were playing alongside our middle school students and stayed to enjoy the meal. The language barrier may have thwarted the SALT students from sharing the Gospel with this particular family, but “they were loved, treated kindly, and prayed for just the same,” Justin says. “It was a powerful reminder for all of us that the Lord is the One in control, and even if we’re speaking different languages, we can still joyfully partner with the world in loving relationship and prayer.”
While the neighborhood meal wasn’t a “doorbuster” event, quite a few people arrived hungry for burgers and hotdogs. The middle school students served food, chatted with residents, played games with neighborhood children and cleaned up after the event. Each attendee was given an invitation card, sharing the details of New Covenant church services and student ministries for a future visit. Even the Matthew 25 representative on site that day was impressed by the “all-in” ministry approach of our students. He mentioned to Justin that out of all the groups who have volunteered to serve this area, the New Covenant students were the first ones who actually wanted to engage with the people in the neighborhood.
Well done, Middle School SALT Team. We celebrate your work and willingness to be beacons of Christ in our city by pursuing God, pursuing others, and practicing His ways in our community.