DETROIT – A pastor in Detroit is helping children in Detroit become leaders through ministry.
The Good News Gang was started in 1989 by pastor Matt Cripps, of Metro Life Church.
"We originated in Southwest Detroit and Detroit and those areas were highly populated with gangs," Cripps said. "We wanted to identify the fact that there's bad gangs out there corrupting the lives of children, but we wanted to show them they could be a part of the Good News Gang."
The Good News Gang helps build futures for children living in adverse conditions in Detroit. The organization offers weekly Saturday programs, summer camps and personal mentorship. The organization also does weekly home visits and child sponsorship and offers school supplies and clothing.
"We pick them up on Saturdays on our buses and we bring them in, and we have a really radical time," Cripps said. "Having Good News Gang in Detroit is vital because we realized there are many children that are growing in environments that are not stable, and so many of them are coming from environments that are not safe. It's vital that we go out and rescue them and bring them in on our buses so they can have a chance, and have an opportunity to become all that God has created them to be."
The organization has 20 part-time dedicated staff members and dozens of other volunteers. The group takes serving the community to another level.
"We're about going into the community, getting into the neighborhood, going beyond these four walls, visiting them at their home, knocking on their door, connecting with their family," Cripps said. "That takes sacrifice. It takes commitment to go out every single week to visit our families to build those great relationships."
Faith is a big part of the Good News Gang.
"We're connecting with the entire household, not just the children through the Good News Gang, but through the church," Cripps said. "We're able to provide an environment where people can come and receive the word, receive the word of God and come in an atmosphere where it's full of life."
On Fridays, Cripps and staff members go into Detroit neighborhoods to tell residents about the Good News Gang and get more children involved. Since its inception, tens of thousands of children have participated in the Good News Gang.
Each Saturday, Cripps and other staff members drive the buses into various neighborhoods in Detroit to pick up a number of children.
"Children when they come here for the first time, some kids are a little bit hesistant like what is this all about, but most of the kids are very excited because they hear their friends talk about it," Cripps said.
The sound of the horn from the buses echoes throughout the neighborhoods, and the children prepare for a fun-filled day with different activites.
"The reality is many of them don't have that support back home, but when they come around us we want them to know they're very, very encouraged, and that they can become anything and the sky's the limit for them," Cripps said.
The organization helps children ages 4 to 12 years old. Once many of the children turn 12 years old, they become a part of the youth program. Adam Binyard and Racheal Curtis were both part of the Good News Gang as kids.
"I didn't want to be a product of my environment," Binyard said. "Just because my circumstances weren't like the next person, I always wanted to make the best of that."
He remembers the day the Good News Gang volunteers came to his neighborhood to pick up kids.
"We were outside playing," Binyard said. "Next thing you know, a bus came up and they came up and we're like, 'What?' and they came out and started talking like do you want to be a part of this program and stuff like that, and my parents were like OK, cool. Since that day, I never turned back from it. It changed my life for the better."
Binyard is a part-time staff member, a leader on the bus, and helps with leadership and mentoring.
"You never know what these children are going through," Binyard said. "You never know and sometimes they just want to be heard."
Racheal Curtis is a part of the youth program for Metro Life Church and volunteers with the kids, too.
"It's always great seeing the kids every week running to the bus," Curtis said.
She said the youth worship team is very close-knit.
"We're a family," Curtis said. "There's no cliques. It's all one group. I've been to galas and banquets and spoken to churches and I think I've gotten more exposure than any teenager has."
She enjoys reaching out to the children to help.
"It makes me really happy to know I can be that leader for them, and that role model that they can look up to," Curtis said. "Teaching these kids that if you love him [God] and pray, he will definitely change your life. We want to teach these kids that it's not only about being responsible, being respectful or having fun, it's about getting to know Jesus."
The Good News Gang also offers a program called TURN, which stands for "Teaching, Understanding, Reaching and Nurturing."
"My wife and I, when we moved back (to Michigan from Chicago), we talked a lot about changing the city of Detroit, and we know Good News Gang already has an impact," Daniel Tyiran said. "We thought there's a lot of families that basically get caught in the same cycle of not necessarily having an education or a direction in life. We thought if we could start something that teaches kids from a young age to be able to have the proper math skills, reading skills, science anything they're passionate at, we're willing to help them, and hopefully that will improve their grades, improve their schooling, and one day they'll be able to break the cycle and not necessarily fall into the same habits that so many others have."
The tutoring takes place on Thursday evenings from 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. A lot of the tutors come from Bethesda Romanian Pentecostal Church in Troy.
Kiera Robinson, a 10-year-old Detroit resident who has participated in the Good News Gang on Saturdays since last year, said she looks forward to the Saturday events.
"If you ever have problems at home or something, or just need like somewhere to go and have fun, you can go to Good News Gang, and you also get to learn about Jesus, the Lord, but that's just the plus, the fun is a plus to all that," Robinson said. "It's really fun to go and just get away from home sometimes, and have another family to fall back on."
She said her friends at school also attend the Saturday program.
"We talk about it at school on Friday," Robinson said. "We're like, 'Oh, are you going to Good News Gang on Saturday?'"
The Good News Gang struggled financially for years, and was housed in unfit buildings.
"During the early years, we were on the brink of just barely surviving, wondering if we were just going to make it through the next year," Cripps said.
They moved to their current building on Oakman Boulevard in 2014. They still owe a lot of money on the building and have improvements they would like to make.
"We have leaking in our roof," Cripps said. "We have plenty of electrical issues, plumbing problems, but we kinda just keep going. We don't allow those things to stop us because we've endured much more than this over the years."
He said it can be very emotional working in the organization.
"It's been challenging," Cripps said. "We've experienced all kinds of obstacles that have come our way. It's not been a bag of roses. We've seen many children that have come through this program that unfortunately ended up in jail or ended up in situations that were not as pleasant, and those things can be very frustrating when you pour your heart and life into children. For us, even if the one makes it. If there's just one that we've seen be able to come up through the ashes with all the despair and hopelessness that they experienced in their life growing up in the city, and they're able to rise above that, that bring us the greatest joy, and thankfully we've seen more than just one."
He said the organization hopes to continue to grow over the years to touch more lives.
"In order to really impact a city or impact any community, we've got to change the hearts of children," Cripps said. "Building new buildings is great, cleaning up communities and neighborhoods is wonderful, but what's really going to change the city is changing the hearts of children. That's what's really going to make the impact."