Real people behind the headlines

 Brandon Powell is a US2 serving as Case Manager at N.O.A.H. in downtown Detroit. Joni Vasquez is a Jesuit volunteer coordinating the Bag Lunch program. NOAH photo

DETROIT, Mich. (MIConnect) – Detroit. A city in bankruptcy ... of purse, maybe, but not of spirit. Since the filing on July 18 of the largest municipal bankruptcy in history, media reports have sent comments by Governor Rick Snyder and the state-appointed Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, around the globe.

As courts weigh in and next steps remain uncertain, perhaps it's time to hear a word from the faith community. A city in the abstract ... real people on the streets. People like those served and serving at N.O.A.H Project out of Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit.

Central UMC began offering bag lunches in 1976. In 1999, Central partnered with Family Service Inc. to create The N.O.A.H. Project (Networking, Organizing, and Advocating for the Homeless) to better address the needs of the community. N.O.A.H.'s mission, as stated on their website: "We are committed to developing relationships that promote healthy change in the lives of individuals who are homeless, especially those for whom it is a chronic struggle."

US2 on the scene

Before last week’s bankruptcy news was announced, MIConnect was already in conversation with Brandon Powell, a young adult in mission.

Brandon has been serving at N.O.A.H. as a US2 since fall of 2012. US2s (ages 20-30) are trained by the General Board of Global Ministries and then serve for 24 months in partner organizations in the U.S.

With regard to the Chapter 9 protection for Detroit, Brandon says, “I think I am in the same boat as everyone else in the city wondering ‘how exactly is this going to affect me?’ I believe N.O.A.H. is asking the same thing. There are lots of unknowns.” While few know what to expect only one week after the initial action was taken, Brandon is well aware of how vulnerable some are feeling. “We have some clients who worked for the city and who are attempting to live off benefits,” he notes. “With pensions possibly on the chopping block some are VERY worried and frustrated.”

Brandon serves as the Case Manager for N.O.A.H. Speaking from a non-profit perspective he sees several possibilities that could impact his work. “On one hand it is a very painful moment seeing how bad the damage really is. There are a lot of question marks and people are fearful.” But he continues, “The bankruptcy filing has brought national attention to a city with some large mismanagement and social justice issues. There is hope that bankruptcy may shine a light on some of these hurting areas.”

Keep looking forward

He reports talking with a woman this week as they waited for the bag lunch to start. “She mentioned that the streets have been bankrupt for years now and said it's funny that what has now happened to Detroit is a surprise for some.” Brandon believes that greater visibility of the plight of the hurting people may convict others to help.

In the midst of a time when little seems clear, Brandon finds assurance in his faith. “The provision that God allots is not contingent on a governmental decision,” he says. “I feel that as a church we are as open and working as hard as ever to understand and to respond to this situation.”

He has his sights on the future. “There’s hope if people now look at Detroit and see not a city that once was great but instead see a city that is awakening and emerging from a rocky and painful past.”

Brandon is encouraged as he sees people “ready to blast their extreme pride in the city as they rally together to better understand what is happening around them.”


Next steps for Brandon

Brandon comes to the city of Detroit from a small town near Charlotte, NC. He plans to go back to school when his stint as a US2 is done. “I became a missionary,” he recalls, “because I felt I needed to gain experience before going into seminary. It’s easy to think about theology but sometimes one simply needs a space to act it out.” N.O.A.H. will continue to provide such space for the year to come.” Every day is a learning experience whether it is heart-wrenching, frustrating or heartwarming,” Brandon explains. “I am learning what it’s like to dive into the compassion Jesus showed on a daily basis.”

Would he recommend mission service to others? “I believe it is crucial for anybody and everybody to learn from those in a different context,” he concludes. “Mission is all about seeing where the church meets the world. Every day I have opportunities to watch the church step out of the building and onto the streets of Detroit, not through Bible beating but through mercy, compassion and fighting for social justice.”

Bankruptcy promises no protection as powerful as transformation made possible by the faith in God and love of neighbor filling men and women like Brandon Powell.

~reported by Kay DeMoss, Senior Writer/Editor, Michigan Area Communications. Photos courtesy of N.O.A.H. Facebook.


1. Rev. Donnie Brown wrote on 7/24/2013 12:00:00 AM
I'm happy that there is another person of the UM faith that believes as I do; Jesus was a person who walked the streets(roads) and ministered to individuals who were in need. He was not shut-up in the santuary talking to people who supposed to already believed in him. How can one reach the masses of those who do not know Him inside of those four walls? We must take his ministry to the streets and show compassion and love as he did to all we meet.
2. Darryl Totty wrote on 7/27/2013 12:00:00 AM
Thank you to Brandon and the laity of Central UMC - Detroit. This is where Christ meets us for transformation and discipleship. REAL People on a mission that make a difference in the lives of transformational communities.
3. Chaarissa wrote on 7/30/2013 12:00:00 AM
Thank you for sharing the "good news". I am blessed to know the clients and staff at NOAH.