Notes on Benton Harbor’s Summer

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer has been an overflowing season, full of the glow of not just the sunshine, but of God’s goodness and grace here in Benton Harbor. By the grace of God, enough money was raised to send 10 beautiful and energetic youth to Camp Henry. The tears and hugs on departure day was only a small indication of how transformal this week has been to all of them- it is a week they will forever treasure in their hearts. 

The summer youth leadership program, a class dedicated to helping and encouraging middle schoolers to stand up to peer pressure, instilling good values, and discovering God in new ways through art, new experiences and Bible lessons, came to a close and seven bright youth stood up during worship on Sunday July 27th to be recognized for their accomplishment in graduating the course. Now, a fun outing to Michigan Adventures is being planned for all the youth as we partner with a church in Niles and continue to build bridges and create lasting memories and relationships. 

Many service learning groups have also stepped foot into our community and church during the past few months, leaving behind beautiful footprints that demonstrate their love and dedication to our humble community- a roof of a dedicated family was repaired, flower beds were weeded at a local community garden, walls were painted, and lives were touched as helping hands, steadfast feet, and giving hearts shared their time and gifts with us.

One Saturday in the month of July had special significance, as 20 local churches came together at a park and put together a Community Explosion- an afternoon of food, fun, music, face paint, prayer, worship, speakers and raffles. It was a witness that we were not going to let the gangs run the streets of Benton Harbor and that other alternatives for the youth are available. It was a true joy to witness so many inspiring moments throughout the summer months.

Now, the air is bustling as a new pace is set with kids going back to school, summer vacation coming to an end, and the season slowly beginning to show signs of a new and beautiful change. The community of Benton Harbor continues its journey too, as each individual and each story is weaved into God’s bigger picture. Here at First Prez, we are gearing up for the fall season as we face many big decisions that cannot be taken lightly. There is a growing number of youth involved in some way or capacity in our church and it is our hope, desire and dream to not let this spark fizzle out but instead continue to nurture and feed this little flame. God is up to something, and with time, we will see what this beautiful change will boom into. Funding and resources are limited, but with God, all things are possible and I believe something transformational is going to soon take place.

In addition, please keep our building, session and church family in your prayers. Our church body is strong and full of life, yet the structure that is supporting us is in great need of repair and some very costly decisions have to be made in the near future. Please pray for guidance, peace and love as we discern what God wants us to do with the gifts He has given us.

Thank You for your continued support and prayers. May the God that holds us all in the palm of His hands continue to lead and guide us all through His grace and mercy. Amen.


-Julie Brien, Resident in Mission


July 27th- Praying together on the Sunday that we recognized the graduation of the youth leadership program participants, all the while being blessed with volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in East Aurora, New York who came to serve in our community for the week

Wanda Tillery, Julie Brien, Gentry Phillips and Cherrie Okonski- a great team of leaders, teachers and artists who led the Summer Leadership Program 2014

A number of the pastors in and around Benton Harbor who made the Community Explosion on July 26th possible. Pastor Laurie Hartzell of First Presbyterian Church of Benton Harbor is 5th from the left.