A Purpose Transformed


When I arrived in Detroit, I came with the desire to learn about larger non-profit organizations, to learn about urban non-profit organizations, and to learn about a wide variety of non-profit organizations. As Project Partner Coordinator, I spent my summer doing just that. Yet my understanding of non-profit work truly transformed when I answered the more basic questions underlying my aims above. I had to ask myself questions such as why we do this with volunteers? Why are so many of the volunteers from outside Detroit? Does this work last? Are we enacting fundamental change?

As I developed answers to these questions over the course of the summer, my understanding of Motown Mission’s purpose transformed.

  • We use volunteers because the work being done is not just the work with shovels and hammers. It is work being done in our own hearts – those of Motown staff and of Motown volunteers. The mission is to us, not just to the city. By having volunteers do this work, volunteers learn the story of Detroit. The story of Detroit becomes part of our story. The story of God’s work in this city merges with the story of God’s work in us. And the mission spreads.
  • Though we often have visitors who come from neighboring towns and regions, we also welcome visitors from far-away because those both far and near need to learn to love. Motown staff and Motown volunteers need to learn to be stretched -- to go far, far outside our comfort zones. To love strange people. To be put in uncomfortable situations. To be forced to encounter and learn about this community, so that we can return and pay more attention to the uncomfortable places in our own communities.
  • The work lasts because we are just a part of something greater. More volunteers will come and continue this work. Neighbors will notice and begin to help out too. We must lose any self-importance that would play a role in justifying our contribution. We were here when we were needed. Others will be there when they are needed.
  • We cannot fix Detroit - nor does it need "saving." We do. Only Christ can save. We live in the great ‘in-between’ -- between God’s promises of a future perfect kingdom and its fulfillment. In the meantime, we can only work to establish little pockets of justice and hope, shadows of the full restorative work of Christ. This justice begins by understanding Detroit, and not seeking to ‘fix’ it. Many things are right here. There is hope here. That hope is in Christ, not in us. And Christ is in this place.

My articulation of these thoughts came as I meditated on a prayer that I repeated many times over the course of the summer. I didn’t pray it as consistently as I should have, but the words were consistent when I remembered to pray them. God answered this prayer. And prayer is transformational. I’d invite the readers to pray it with me as they read:

God, make Motown Mission a place for myself and the volunteers to encounter your presence. To know how real you are. To find you in the most unexpected places.

God, make Motown Mission a place for myself and the volunteers to learn to love. To love with humility. To love those who need it, not just to love where it is easy and comfortable. Let us look to you as the source and power behind the love, knowing that only the Spirit of God ministers to this city and the hearts within it, even our hearts.

God, make Motown Mission a praise facilitator. Empty our hands of all but praise. No complaining. No motives of pride. Just help us to praise. To praise God for this city and its residents. To praise God for his redemptive work being done everywhere, even in us.

Dustin is a senior at Hillsdale College studying English Literature. 

As a Volunteer: Looking Up to Motown Staff

Maddie (left) clearing lots during one of her first trips to Motown in 2011.

Maddie (left) clearing lots during one of her first trips to Motown in 2011.

I was first introduced to Motown Mission in 2010 when I was an awkward middle schooler whose mom forced me to participate in mission work within the city of Detroit. I honestly don’t remember too much from this trip except that we put up insulation and I was hot, sweaty, itchy, and not at all happy about it. But apparently something stuck because here I am seven years later with five Motown trips under my belt and serving on staff for the summer.

After this 2010 trip to Detroit I began to become more interested and involved within missions and volunteer work; especially regarding topics of social justice, advocacy, and empowerment on a larger, community based level. From that point on I knew I wanted to be involved with helping and serving alongside others and found many outlets within my community to do so. I found that these volunteer opportunities and experiences left my heart overflowing and I genuinely felt at my happiest. My heart for missions has since grown.

During the multiple mission trips I experienced, I always looked up to the staffers and thought that a summer of service would be so cool (aka those kids were so cool and I wanted to be like them). Besides wanting to be cool I really wanted a summer full of mission. A summer full of truly feeling God’s presence and being immersed in something I love so much and am incredibly passionate about. So when the talk of summer plans, jobs, internships, etc. began last November the idea of Motown popped into my head. After looking at a variety of other missional organizations, Motown felt like where the Lord was leading me. Motown does missions extremely well! The model of project partners and working alongside Detroiters while providing a time of reflection and hospitality for volunteers at the center creates a positive solution in assisting with the revitalization of Detroit. I answered His call and here I am.

I struggled immensely at the beginning of the summer to figure out exactly where I fit. I wasn’t a volunteer yet the volunteer perspective was all I knew. I was now in a position of leadership to guide others through their week and was not confident in my abilities. But at the same time I felt that my previous volunteer perspective brought a new and helpful insight to the staff. I was able to relate to the experiences of the volunteers that come to serve in Detroit and have a better idea of what worked well during my volunteering time and what didn’t. I wanted to pour into those who come to this incredible city similarly to the ways in which staffers had done so to me. I wanted to help volunteers fully process and reflect on their experiences and all that they’ve witnessed in the city. I wanted to be fully immersed in my time here this summer in Detroit. Living and engaging fully in the city and exploring all that this community has to offer.

My journey thus far throughout the summer has been extremely transformational. I have been grown and stretched in ways beyond what I ever thought I would. Even though my perspectives, views, and position has changed within my Motown Mission experience, the same heart and passion is present behind why I choose to serve in the city. Thankful for the ways in which this Motown community has allowed for the transformation of my heart. I can’t wait to see the ways in which the Lord continues to work within my life as the summer is quickly coming to an end.


Maddie Eiler is an Organizational Communications major at Calvin College


Donate to Maddie's work with Motown Mission
Each staff person is encouraged to raise $500 toward the next class of Motown Mission staff.

Sacred Spaces

Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."  (Exodus 3:5)

There’s something magical about walking into a place that has been home to thousands who have come before you. Those in the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) have laughed, cried and cared for God’s people from birth to death.

Woodward Ave., arguably Detroit’s main street, is home to dozens of churches of every stripe. About twenty church buildings on Woodward have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. These breath-taking buildings are remnants of a time when Detroit was one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

One particularly special church to us is Metropolitan United Methodist Church, home of Motown Mission. “Metro” UMC is one of the largest church buildings in Detroit and is home to the second largest organ in the state of Michigan.

The land for Metro was donated by S.S. Kresge, the namesake of K-Mart and the building was erected in 1922 at a cost of 1.6 million dollars. In the 1930s, Metro had the largest Methodist congregation in the world with about 7,300 members. Metro boasts a 2000-seat sanctuary, a performance stage, a basketball court and even a fallout shelter! Quaint fonts are gilded on every doorway and intricate masonry rises along the belfry.

Following deindustrialization and white flight, the congregation has transitioned from being a large, white population to a small multicultural community. Worship on Sundays is intimate and friendly. Today’s members are nothing but kind and welcoming as they advocate for a more peaceful and just world.

Motown Mission is fortunate is to be housed in such a special and sacred space. Our volunteers sleep on the second and third floors and we hold worship services in Kresge Hall (originally a movie theater). By hosting Motown Mission and numerous other ministries, the faithful at Metro have found ways to acknowledge the needs of Christ's Church in today's world.

When I was young I sang a hymn that starts:

The Church is not a building, the Church is not a steeple, the Church is not resting place, the Church is a people.

The lyricist rightly argues that the size and shape of a church building is not important: instead, the Church is a people. A people that gathers together to praise God, love each other and serve the world. While we want to avoid building another Babel, it certainly helps to be in a place that is permanent, awe-inspiring and lovely to honor a God that is eternal, awesome and loving.

Thanks be to God for our sacred space in Detroit!


Mitchell Eithun is a recent grad of Ripon College, heading to Michigan State University to pursue a PhD in computational mathematics.


Donate to Mitchell's work with Motown Mission
Each staff person is encouraged to raise $500 toward the next class of Motown Mission staff.

Pivotal Point During Week Five: Patience is a Virtue

Nykeshia Safford, Volunteer Coordinator

Nykeshia Safford, Volunteer Coordinator

Going into this summer I had no clue what being a Motown Mission staffer really entailed, but here I am at week five and I have survived thus far – so I think I’m doing okay. Coming from a small town on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Detroit has been quite the adventure. The past few weeks been some of the most challenging, yet rewarding weeks ever. Motown Mission will challenge you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, but you have to be uncomfortable to grow, right? Week five is like the Wednesday of the summer – you’re tired and ready for the weekend.

Although this week was very tiresome, it was also a very pivotal point in this summer for me. The volunteers extended grace to me, as I tried to do the same for them. They were patient with the rest of the staff, and understood that we were exhausted. As I reflected on this summer, I think that the most important part of Motown Mission is the volunteer groups. They are so patient, kind, and energized. I have learned so much from them in the five weeks that I have been here.

Patience is truly a virtue, whether it’s waiting in line at a restaurant, waiting on something that you asked God for, or just waiting on the light to turn green – patience is an admirable quality. This summer, I have learned that we should extend as much grace and patience to our neighbors as God does to us. The experience that I have gotten here is something that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else.

Nykeshia Safford is a sophomore at Tuskegee University.


Donate to Nykeshia's work with Motown Mission
Each staff person is encouraged to raise $500 toward the next class of Motown Mission staff.

Hope and Hospitality Abound!

Introducing our new Young Adult Missionary, Kayla!

"I’m serving here in Detroit until July, and I couldn’t be more excited to finish my time with Motown Mission."

"I’m serving here in Detroit until July, and I couldn’t be more excited to finish my time with Motown Mission."

My name is Kayla Flannery and I am a Global Mission Fellow US-2. That’s really just a long name to say that I’m a young adult missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries. I’m serving here in Detroit until July, and I couldn’t be more excited to finish my time with Motown Mission. In this new position I will be working as the Hospitality and Volunteer Coordinator. For the past 16 months I was the Volunteer Coordinator for The Northwest Detroit Flood Recovery Project as we worked to help Detroiters recover from the largest federally declared disaster of 2014. With that experience and my experiences with Sierra Service Project, I’m looking forward to helping to lead the work at The Foundry House. I hope over the next few months with the great work of amazing teams we can bring the Molly unit closer to being finished!


What's up with the Foundry House Project?

Kayla will be working with The Foundry House, and welcoming volunteers to this space of hospitality. Here is her update about the ongoing progress of Foundry:

2016 was a great year for work getting done at The Foundry House! This summer there were 8 teams who spent time working on the house. Even after the summer was over we were blessed to have multiple groups of people come in to help us along in this journey. Due to all of this wonderful work we were able to finish the "Charles" unit in the fall so we could have our Sexton move in! (Also – don’t you love that Wesleyan throwback of the apartment names?)

We’ve also been able to wrap up the work on the "John" unit in preparation of having our summer staff live there in just a few weeks!

2017 is shaping up to be a very productive year as we work towards finishing the Molly unit and more! So far we have seven teams signed up to work this summer, and had five teams there during Spring Break. All of this work isn't possible without you our wonderful supporters. From the team here at Motown Mission we say a very big thank you!!

Don’t forget if you want to keep up with the progress that is being made feel free to follow the pictures that we keep updated on our flickr here.

Interested in Staff? My time at Motown Mission...


The services, experiences, and assistance that Motown Mission provides each year, to not only those that are served but everyone volunteering and on staff, is something that is hard to recreate or experience anywhere else.

Going into the summer I had some idea as to what was entailed with working on staff but I did not completely know what my work would be or what my experience would bring. However, I had an open mind about learning new things, taking on different tasks and challenges, and living with people I had not met before.

By working with Motown Mission for the summer I forged new friendships with people that I continue to stay in touch with to this day, I faced many challenges that built me to be more prepared, and formed a new appreciation for all Detroit has to offer.

Detroit is an amazing city to live and work in that is severely misunderstood due to longstanding stereotypes. During the summer I grew to appreciate Detroit and all it has to offer in the people I interacted with and the neighborhoods I had the opportunity to serve in.

My summer at Motown was an experience that I would never want to change and was something that has helped build me into the person that I am today, I could not have expected a better more character building summer.


Andrew Netter is a senior at Michigan State University, majoring in business and political science.

Post-Summer Questions with Elise!

What surprised you this summer?

Each week, the many various volunteer groups astonished me with their modest, selfless yearning to help others they had never met before. Through the incredible motivation of youth group leaders and motivating communities, groups of young people traveled from all over the country to Detroit, all with their own unique stories of why they were there. For most youth, the awesome, out-of-the-ordinary quality of giving up a week of their time to help people in a distant city was unremarkable in their eyes. This was another week in their summer- most expected a time to connect with other youth and adults in their church, (and yearn for when the next opportunityfor ice cream or basketball could come)... but they quickly realized that this whole mission business was so much deeper than that, and I cherished seeing that realization.


What is the best/most rewarding part of your job? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced/overcome working here?

As the Project Partner Coordinator at Motown Mission, my primary focus has been to establish relationships with contact people of the existing non-profit organizations that our program works alongside. These contact people came from many various backgrounds; social workers, clergy, neighbors, construction workers, non-profit managers… Together, they came to work with our volunteers each day with a common passion; that through the work done that day, one story of economic disaster could be changed. These are the Project Partners of Motown Mission. They organize the projects each volunteer team is assigned, provide most materials, and are the connection from the homeowner to the volunteer team. These folks advocate for families or elders with few resources, those who are trying to make it by on social security alone, or struggling through a physical limitation. For me, these advocates are the unsung heroes that work little by little to make big differences in individual lives. Through these devoted folks, I have gained insight to the neighborhoods of Detroit, stepping into homes of families and elders with diverse stories and daily needs. These moments and connections challenged my perceptions of what blight looks like, and who experiences poverty. As Vincent, a staffer from 2015, wisely put, "It’s different when you meet the people who live in these circumstances. A million is merely a statistic. An elderly woman whose home is... falling apart around her, with a roof that barely seems to keep out any rain is something completely different. A mother and her children doing their best to live in a home where the floors look ready to break through is not a statistic. A man with an eye that is completely clouded over for lack of treatment- that is not some sad number. These are real people, and I’ve met them. I’ve spoken to them, and I’ve come to know them. They aren’t just ‘poor people,’ they are human beings like you or me." These connections broke down the walls that crime statistics and fear-mongering had built in my head, replacing those clear-cut lines of despair, with sunny and sweaty days centered around teamwork, belly laughs, and a sense of progress. I loved meeting homeowners and neighbors, but I also gained remarkable insight into the unending dedication and passion from the Project Partners, as I watched them lead teams to make real change in their clients', neighbors', or friends' lives.

This summer, this favorite story of mine came to mind almost every day…

"There was a young man walking down a deserted beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a frail old man. As he approached the old man, he saw him picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea.

The young man gazed in wonder as the old man again and again threw the small starfish from the sand to the water. He asked, "Old man, why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?"

The old man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. " But there must be thousands of beached and millions of starfish!" exclaimed the young man. "How can you make any difference?" The old man looked down at the small starfish in his hand and as he threw it into the safety of the sea, he said, "I made a difference to this one."

Driving through the neighborhoods of Detroit, I was often overwhelmed by just how much need there is. I grew weary counting how many burned out homes a neighborhood might have, or lay awake at night remembering the numerous frail people who approached my car at a stop light in one day, asking for food or cigarettes. For every garage we helped repaint, lawn we mowed, or house we boarded up, there seemed to countless more begging our attention. But then, at the end of a truly exhausting day, I would get an excited call from Ms. Davis at North End, or an email from Emily Cutler at Neighborhood Service Organization - brimming with successful stories for the day… and I would hear a small voice in my ear saying "I made a difference to this one."


Elise is a rising Junior at Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts and is a history and french double major with a minor in non-profit management. 


My Detroit

Well let me start off by telling you that I am NOT a writer. This fact became very clear after our staff sat down and decided to look back on our applications for this job and my answers were only two sentences compared to the paragraphs the other staff had produced. Keep that in mind as you proceed.

So what drove this crazy Floridian, attending an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) with an almost unhealthy obsession with orange juice to fly (for the first time) down (everything is down for southerners) to Detroit?…. Well as a broke college student I’d bet that’s reason enough. But to further elaborate; my professor began a Wesley Foundation on our campus Fall ‘15 and at the end of Spring semester she provided us with a handful of internship opportunities for the summer. Motown Mission was my pick and here I sit today writing this!

Before coming to Detroit my idea of a missionary was of a slightly creepy older woman with a bible ready to smack some Jesus into your life. But now, eight weeks later I can say that perception has completely changed. These volunteers didn’t push God onto the people of Detroit, instead they SHOWED who and how God can work in your lives through the actions of others. Each new Sunday brought another group of volunteers and every Saturday I had to part ways with people I had grown attached to. Over the course of a week these groups had somehow created a place in my heart for themselves. My eyes watered (but ONLY watered because only city girls cry) on more than one occasion as I waved farewell to those who had come to lend a helping hand to a brother or sister in the eyes of God who they probably will never see again.

My Motown Mission Experience was realizing that God has purpose for all the things that happen in our lives. I had no idea that my decision to work at Motown would be exactly what I needed. I earned more than just money this summer. I found friends who will sit with me at 12 in the morning and just talk about the meaning of life (42), I met OODLES of young people with a crazy obsession with Hamilton just like me, I learned that chicken can be seasoned with Italian dressing (shocker right) and one of the biggest things Detroit has shown me is that humanity is everywhere we just have to be willing to open our eyes. Each person I have come in contact with has changed me for the better and even if I don’t ever see these people again I thank God for the time I was able to have with them.                                                                                                                                                                    

Carlista is a junior at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University studying Psychology

Great Expectations

The other day I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit the Detroit Historical Museum. That visit, along with the fact that the city just celebrated the 315th anniversary of its founding has gotten me thinking about all of the people who have come to Detroit throughout the centuries, and how myself and all the others that I have had the privilege to work with this summer are part of that story. From the beginning explorers setting up a strategic fort along the détroit (“the strait” in French) to pioneers and fur-traders looking to make new lives for themselves to former slaves seeking freedom in Canada to the thousands that migrated to find work in the automobile industry to the numerous immigrant groups that have made Detroit their home in recent years, we have all come here with our own expectations of what our journey in this city would look like.

            However, one thing that my summer in Detroit has taught me is that God has a way of challenging your expectations and helping you grow in ways that you may not have even realized were places in which you needed to be stretched. As one of my favorite passages of Scripture tells us, there is a time for everything, and I certainly thought that I knew what purpose my time in Detroit was supposed to serve. Nevertheless, God had other plans, His plan, and I must say that I am glad that some of my expectations went unmet this summer. Well, unmet in the way that I was expecting them, at least, but let me explain.

            Coming to Detroit, this was the first experience that I was going to have working for a missional organization, which I saw as the perfect opportunity to work on discerning what I’m supposed to be doing for the rest of my life (how’s that for great expectations?). I also believed that I would leave an expert on the city of Detroit, having seen all the sights and experienced all it had to offer. Finally, I was planning on providing every single volunteer that came to Motown Mission with a flawless and deeply spiritual mission experience here in the city.

            Needless to say, not one of these expectations has been fulfilled in the way that I was hoping. Instead, God has used my time in the city of Detroit to accomplish far more than those few things that I had dreamt up. First of all, instead of simply discerning what my next major steps in life are, God helped me to learn how to trust in Him more and be patient for His plan to come into fruition. Especially in times of trial (like that three-hour traffic jam), I was able to lean on His grace and focus on how to best stay in a mindset that would be pleasing to Him. This allowed me to do likewise in terms of being patient with not knowing what my whole life’s plan is. I know that if I stay focused on how to best serve God where I am and with what I currently have, He will provide in due time exactly what I need.

            And sometimes what I needed this summer were moments where everything wasn’t perfect (I like to refer to them as hiccups) when I was reminded that God still works through our messiness and mishap. I did hit wrong notes while playing piano during worship, and I did forget to put out the cream cheese for the bagels in the morning (a couple of times), but in the end God still worked through my hiccups and the Holy Spirit was still alive and active at Motown Mission.

            Working through the brokenness of this world is also something that God does in many beautiful ways in this city. I will leave in just a couple short weeks by no means an expert on Detroit, and not for lack of trying. The city simply has so much to give that three months is not long enough to experience it all. Music, art, parks, restaurants, historical sights—Detroit has them all in such abundance. More importantly, Detroit has a spirit that is unique, complex, and inspiring. It has communities and residents that refuse to give up on their city and on God. They are caring, resilient, and creative, and will gladly share their city and their stories with you.

            So I will leave Detroit not an expert, not with a decided career, and not having done a perfect job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. God has given me so many blessings this summer and I am extremely grateful that Detroit, Motown Mission, and all of our volunteers were a part of my journey. I may have had great expectations coming to this city, but God made it so that I had a phenomenal experience in the end (not a bad upgrade, huh?).


Alyson is an upcoming junior at Albion College studying Music and International Studies.

The Detroit I know

This summer, I decided to return to Motown Mission for my second year on staff.  After living abroad in Spain, and going to school in Minnesota, the prospect of spending the summer in home-sweet Michigan, with truly amazing coworkers and friends, was appealing.  Not everyone that I talked to, however, understood why I wanted to come back and work in Detroit.  The city has a reputation.  The first things that probably come to mind are the stories commonly told by the media: bankruptcy, crime, racial riots, white flight, violence, and poverty.  Before I lived there last summer, most of the people I spoke with said, “Detroit!  It’s so dangerous!  Why on earth are you going there?”  And it is true that Detroit has not had an easy history, and still faces many economic and racial challenges.  But this is not the Detroit that I know, and the story of Detroit I want to share.

The Detroit I know is full of art and creative endeavors.  The music of Motown Records is all from Detroit, if you’ve ever heard of The Temptations, Diana Ross and The Supremes, or Stevie Wonder, and artists like Kid Rock, Eminem, and Bob Seger are also Detroit based.  Detroit has institutions like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Institute of Arts to build up the formal artistic community, coupled with underground graffiti and independent art galleries.  My favorite artistic endeavor in the city is the Heidelburg Project, a neighborhood that has been entirely converted, with all the houses and yards covered in paint, sculpture, and symbolic objects – into a giant project spanning two blocks full of color and creativity.  I also have had the opportunity to hear slam poets, street musicians, and local writers.  The innovation and creativity in the city inspires me.

The Detroit I know is full of faith and trust in God.  My perspective may be slightly biased because I live in a church and do work within a faith community, but even outside the church, I see God’s presence and influence clearly within the city.  Churches line Woodward Avenue of every sort of denomination, beautiful and impressive buildings amidst the abandoned apartment buildings.  People show up to church, and talk about God a lot outside of it.  Many times in casual conversation, the response to “how are you” is “blessed,” usually elaborated by all of the good things God had provided – friends, family, His love.  My faith is built up by the immense trust in God I see across the city.

The Detroit that I know is made up of caring and loving individuals, some of the most wonderful and generous people I’ve ever met.  At my college we say “Carls care about Carls,” but Detroiters care about Detroiters even more.   The sense of community is palpable and carried out in actions, especially in neighborhoods.  I worked with neighborhood clubs, who formed coalitions to watch over abandoned houses, keep neighborhoods safe, and support neighbors in times of need.  Community gardens grow on abandoned lots, tended by neighbors so everyone can enjoy fresh produce. In the neighborhood where I lived, there was a group of elderly folks who sat outside on lawn chairs, everyday, and would wave to passing cars, just to spread joy.  The people care about each other and it inspires me to live with that kind of love.

Lastly, the Detroit I know is a place of hope.

Hope reigns in the city.  The community of Detroiters is not a people that give up.  Facing the worst economically, from prejudice, from systems of injustice, the people in the city persevere and continue working together.  Their tenacity is inspiring: the city has been through tough trials, but every time it comes back stronger than ever. Nothing says it better than the city motto, a Latin phrase written in 1805 after a large fire nearly destroyed the entire city:  Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus.   We hope for better things.  It will arise from the ashes.

This is the Detroit that I know and love: a city that is arising, full of life, made up of its art, faith, hope and a community loving individuals.  I came back for a second summer at Motown because the city, in all of its glory, won’t let me go.

Katie Grosh is a rising junior at Carleton College studying Geology and Spanish. 

Growing and Trying

Perhaps the best way I can describe my Motown experience is to say that it has been ‘trying.’

Not necessarily in the sense that it has been unpleasant or that it has been difficult, though I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times like that. No, what I really mean by ‘trying’ is that it has been a time when I’ve tried things.

For example, I tried living away from home for an extended period of time. Yes, I’ve lived on campus, but with light traffic, it’s less than a half-hour drive from my family. I tend to go home nearly every weekend while living on campus, but an actual separation from home is something nearly unprecedented in my life.

A second, and still more important, thing I decided I should try was leaving my ‘bubble.’ I’ve never really been outside of my white, middle-class surroundings, at least not for any length of time. I’ve been completely immersed in my own culture, and have had very little to do with other cultures or socioeconomic classes. It’s not that I’ve avoided cultures besides my own. However, I’ve never been truly immersed in any culture besides that which I was born into, the culture of the middle-class white person.

This is the main reason that I decided to join Motown Mission: I wanted to experience a perspective unlike any I’ve experienced before. And that is something that Motown has definitely been able to provide.

I’ve seen poverty and homelessness in a way that I never had before. To me, the idea of not having enough to eat, or not being able to afford proper medical care was something I knew happened, but I had trouble imagining it happening to actual people. Like many others, I have a hard time thinking of disasters that I could not see myself as anything other than a statistic that some politician would point to during a campaign speech. It was incredibly hard to think of those statistics as actual people suffering while I lived in comfort.

It’s different when you actually see the people who live in these circumstances. A million is merely a statistic. An elderly woman who’s home is almost literally falling apart around her, with a roof that barely seems to keep out any rain is something completely different. A mother and her children doing their best to live in a home where the floors look ready to break through is not a statistic. A man with an eye that is completely clouded over for lack of treatment, that is not some sad number. These are real people, and I’ve met them. I’ve spoken to them, and I’ve gotten to know them. They aren’t just ‘poor people,’ they are human beings like you or me.

When I say Motown has been trying, what I truly mean is that I’ve been trying to open my mind to the plight of others who are less fortunate than I am. It hasn’t been easy, but it was something I felt like I had to do. Was it a calling from God? I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it was.

Going forward, I believe that this position has granted me many insights that will be valuable in nearly anything I may want to do.

It’s been difficult, and, at times, extremely unpleasant, but I think that it’s been worth it. I’ve learned a lot, and, I believe, I have done something to make the world better, and I hope to continue making the world a little bit better.

Vincent Tomasino is a junior at Bethel College, studying psychology.

How's Your Summer Been?

At an intern bonfire (bond-fire) late one evening, the question was posed: how does one describe a summer at Motown? What do you tell people about this experience? The answers I’ve given to folks back home vary, though in every case I tell the truth. I might grin and say it’s wonderful to a friend, and then call home frustrated and upset and say it’s miserable. To give a fuller picture I thought I might detail a complete response here. Motown Mission has been, to quote fellow intern Kaitlyn, the “best-worst” summer ever, and it’s difficult to sum up what it’s like to live in intentional community, work with multitudes of people, and spend time in a city like Detroit. The idea of a “best-worst” summer feels accurate because it has simultaneously been one of the most difficult and incredible times in my life.

The workdays are very rewarding because our volunteer crews create a visible impact. The day may start off with peeling paint, weeds, trash, or broken sinks, but it always ends with a fresh coat, a clean bed, neatly tied bags, and new plumbing. The work we do makes a difference, and we receive great appreciation from the community. Personally, I feel like I have learned a lot about myself, and grown immensely in my independence, leadership skills, and problem solving abilities. I see myself as more confident, able to articulate myself, and in a better place in terms of discerning my call and mission in life. I met volunteers from all across the state and country, and Detroit natives that had been with city in good times and bad. The relationships I’ve built, with interns, volunteers, and homeowners alike, have profoundly affected me, with everyday interactions turning into deep connections. We say it at every evening devotional, but the city is truly full of hope. There is energy, art, beauty, and love all around, and being present in that is awe-inspiring, especially at a time when the city is moving to revival, resurgence, and renewal. Best summer ever.

In no way, shape, or form has it been easy. Adjusting to the realities of Detroit, and city living in general, was a change from my pretty sheltered life in Ann Arbor. Bulletproof glass, dilapidated structures, and abandoned lots are constant reminders of the history of Detroit and all of the struggles and challenges that still need to be overcome. For all of the abandoned lots we did clean, there are dozens to go and the dent we made is small. Among the interns, at times it was tough to navigate the shared roles of coworkers, roommates, and friends; and, as anyone who has ever worked in customer service knows, taking care of the needs of our volunteers and shaping their experience positively was draining.

Despite all the challenges and day-to-day difficulties, I find that the positive aspects of this summer shine out the most clearly. I’m going to remember late-night Mercury Bar milkshakes, indie art galleries, bike rides around Wayne State, shawarmas from Bucharest Grill, and sunsets and movies on the roof. I’ll remember sweating on worksites, singing at devotions, and praying for each other in intentional community. And, of course, I’m going to remember the many charismatic and caring individuals I’ve met throughout the summer; the relationships I’ve built with them and with the city of Detroit are connections I will treasure. Motown Mission has definitely been an experience, and I wouldn’t want to have worked anywhere else this summer.

Katie Grosh is a sophomore at Carleton College.

Four things I learned from three years at Motown Mission Experience

This summer marks the third year I have worked for Motown Mission, so I would like to share the top four things I have learned from working at this outstanding nonprofit in Detroit.

  1. Working in the City of Detroit: Detroit is often depicted as a dangerous place full of crime. In three years working in the city, I have never run into any problems, in fact, the Detroiters who I have worked with are outstanding people who care about revitalizing their communities. This city has been through a lot, but it continues to work towards a stronger community and a better future. Detroit is an exciting place right now; there are many new businesses entering and thriving in the city, Detroit is considered the U.S.’s capital of urban farming, and there are many block clubs around the city working on improving their neighborhoods.

  2. Serving alongside the people of Detroit: Our goal at Motown Mission is not to just work for the people of Detroit, it is also to work alongside these people to transform peoples’ lives, the city, and the world. The people we work with are grateful to have help completing a home repair job that they have needed for years, or for working alongside the volunteers on an urban farm to provide fruits and vegetables to a community where good produce is scarce. Detroiters have been resilient throughout the tough years, and they are ready for the city to make a comeback. Serving with motivated and driven people is what makes the Motown Mission Experience such a unique experience. It is important to remember that we are not here to ‘save’ the city or its residents; instead we focus on bringing awareness to the work that still needs to be done, and to lend an extra hand to work where it is needed.

  3. Project Coordinating:This has been my first summer project coordinating for Motown Mission and it has been exciting and challenging. Before the groups arrive at Motown, they send in preferences for the work they want to do for the week; whether it is light home repair, gardening work, demolition, etc. It is then my job to take these preferences and create an ideal work week full of different projects and nonprofit work from around the city. Some days it can be a challenge to coordinate between project partners and volunteers, but I enjoy seeing the volunteers come back from their work day and tell me how great their service experience was.

  4. Working with Volunteers: Volunteer groups are what make Motown Mission so special. Groups come from all over the country to serve in the city of Detroit and every group is unique and brings its own set of gifts to the city. One of my favorite parts of working at Motown Mission is watching the youth experience a transformation in their love of service and their appreciation for the city. Volunteers’ enthusiasm for service is the reason I return to Motown year after year.

I always tell people who are interested in working at Motown that it will be one of the best/worst summers of their life. Motown has presented its fair share of challenges, and helped me grow tremendously personally and professionally. These summers have been wonderful, and I would like to thank all of the MME staff members that I have worked with and the volunteers for that.

Kaitlyn Szczypka is a senior at Michigan State University, studying public policy and history.

Sailing into the Great Unknown

Googling “Detroit mission” and clicking on the third link down, will take you to Motown Mission’s homepage. That was exactly how I found my summer plans as an intern. I prayed multiple times during the school year about giving my summer to God and He gracefully led me exactly where I needed to be without me even knowing about it.

After accepting this position, I really had no clue what to expect for my summer in Detroit as an intern. I did not know where I would be living, who I would be working with, or what a typical workday would look like. I also did not know that I would be experiencing one of the best summers of my life.

These last few weeks have been an adventure, to say the least.

I was not sure what my role would be once I arrived to the Motor City. The role I was assigned focused on working with volunteers at worksites and helping out with our program at Metropolitan United Methodist Church. I have been able to step up in leadership roles amongst the daily activities and have enjoyed helping out volunteers and neighbors of Detroit. I also have learned a lot about the other interns and about their journeys of life so far.

I came into this summer thinking of the other interns as my co-workers, however, I am delighted to call them some of my greatest brothers and sisters in Christ. I did not expect my views on others to change like that. I did not know that I would soon see many people in Detroit as my new neighbors either. I did not know how I would handle some of the stress of simply being an intern and being responsible for volunteers in a large city. I could go on longer about many of the things I did not know or still do not know about my summer in Detroit, but while navigating around this city, I have learned (and am still learning!) how to sail into this Great Unknown gracefully.

I have been able to trust God with many things during these times of uncertainty. The patience that I have learned through all of this is something that I was not expecting to gain. One bible verse that I found earlier this summer being relevant to this was from John 13 with Jesus replying to Peter, “you do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Later I will understand.

During one of our largest weeks of volunteers, I was running around the church after breakfast trying to get tools and nearly 50 volunteers from Ohio to four worksites in the North End Neighborhood all by myself. In the midst of all the chaos that I felt was going on, the leader of the group nicely interrupted me and said, “Thank you for being so patient while working with us.” I felt like a large weight was lifted off of my shoulders and I could breathe again. I realized at that moment that it was all right for me to not know what exactly was going on or know which volunteers needed what at that very moment. I appreciated the fact that the group leader shared that with me and I was then able to see some of the small things that go unnoticed throughout the workday, like the sunshine and smiling faces of homeowners.

Since then, I have embraced the moments where I have had little knowledge of what was happening at the time being or what the next day may look like. It has been in those times of ambiguity where I have been able to accept the fact that I do not have to always know what is going on and can trust in God that all is well and His plans are always greater than mine.

My time in Detroit is ending soon and I know that I will miss this city as I venture up to the Upper Peninsula for school next month. I hope to call Detroit my home in the future and cannot thank the Motown Mission staff and people of Detroit enough for welcoming me into this beautiful city, even when I was unsure why God brought me here or what His plans were for me.

Later I will understand the significance of my work in Detroit and why it has left such a great impact on my life.

Kirsten Zielinski is a junior at Northern Michigan University, studying nursing. 

Haec urbs resurgit – This city rises


Early last week I was working on Detroit’s West Side, putting a fresh layer of paint on an old, wooden garage with a team of volunteers from Lambertville, MI. That morning, my colleague Will and I had—quite unwittingly—decided to wear matching maroon T-shirts. The maroon T-shirts were an old edition of the Motown Mission shirt that featured the organization’s logo on the front and on the back, “Speramus Meliora – Resurget Cineribus – FOUNDATION.

That afternoon, Will asked me what the Latin on our shirts meant. I’d studied Latin for a few years a while back and had a very rough idea of the meaning. I knew “speramus” was a verb meaning ‘we hope,’ “meliora” a sort of adjective meaning ‘better,’ “resurget” a future verb meaning ‘he/she/it will rise’ and that “cineribus,” judging from its ending, was a noun.

But it bothered me that after five years of Latin I couldn’t figure out what “cineribus” meant. Frustrated and embarrassed, I turned to my last resort—a Google search on my phone. I quickly found that “cineribus” is the ablative form of ‘ashes.’ Of course! The etymology seemed blindingly obvious—‘cines/cineres’… cinders, cinderblock, etc.

Translated, the Latin on our shirts mean, “We hope for better things – It will rise from the ashes.” After the Detroit Fire of 1805, French priest Gabriel Richard penned this double motto; the words have since become the motto of Detroit.

Father Richard’s words, though over two centuries old, are more relevant than ever and center my work with Motown Mission this summer. Our T-shirt this year is even more direct, with the word “Hopetown” emblazoned across the front.

I’ve now spent a month working in Detroit, and though we confront bleakness and blight nearly every day, far more compelling is the evidence of hope across the city.

A couple weeks ago I was in a neighborhood on the North End, shadowing some Motown volunteers who’d come all the way from Maryland. It was a trying, stressful, and hectic day, as my colleague Kirsten and I ran around, making sure volunteers had work to do at different sites, running to the church again and again to pick up supplies, and making runs to the hardware store for painting tools.

That afternoon, I met an extraordinary Detroiter. She owns a house in the North End and the structure is worse for wear. I’ve no intention to romanticize or sentimentalize her house’s condition, so I plainly state: the front porch is missing, half the exterior wooden paneling is gone, the rooms lack proper walls or ceilings, the house currently lacks running water, and there were no stairs to the second floor; the homeowner was using a ladder to get to her room on the upper level.

That day, skilled volunteers installed two brand-new doors at her front and side entrances. And once they finished doing that, they built new stairs for the homeowner to reach the second floor.

I see in this extraordinary woman and her home the very embodiment of hope within Detroit. You should’ve heard the way she talked to us, beaming, about her plans for the future and her family. She intends to continue remodeling the house, and even has plans for ecologically friendly practices such as solar panels and geothermal energy.

As cool as all that is, what affected me the most was her pride in her home, even with all the work that still must be done. She inherited the house from a family member. Once remodeled, the house will become a home for her own grandchildren.

There are far too many false, racist narratives about this incredible city and its citizens; narratives focusing on flight, stereotypes of African-American families and parenting, and ‘lazy’ people doing nothing to save their city. The homeowner I worked with in the North End is irrefutable proof of the lies and injustice of the naysayers’ words. She is a proud, tireless woman who is energetically investing in her family, her home, and her future. She is one of countless Detroiters tied to and tying this community together with family, decades-old roots, and a vision for the future grounded in the work of the present.

I chose to work with Motown Mission this summer so that I could take part in the vital mission before us. That is, working with and alongside the unshakeable people of Detroit to transform this city.

To tell the truth, I think “Resurget Cineribus” is a bit outdated as a motto. Why? “Resurget” is in future tense—it will rise from the ashes. But that’s wrong. Resurgit Cineribus… Detroit rises from the ashes of its past. Present tense.

Jonathan Jue-Wong is a native of Ann Arbor and a senior at Oberlin College, studying history and religion. This is his first summer with Motown Mission.

Partnering with Neighborhood Service Organization to Serve Senior Citizens

Neighborhood Service Organization provides a wide variety of services to the community, including youth workforce development, early childhood educational support, and support for people living with mental illness. When our volunteers work with NSO, they help senior citizens with home repairs and yard maintenance.

This past week at NSO, our volunteers worked on a variety of projects for seniors in the community.

One of our homeowners, a senior who lives alone with her dog, had 16 volunteers working inside and outside her home. She had her kitchen scrubbed and prepped for painting, her lawn mowed and weeds pulled, her garden tilled and planted (seeds and flowers), her dog washed (her name is Friday and she is a great dog!) and her items that were damaged and displaced from flooding organized.

Another homeowner was having an emergency situation, and volunteers were able to help her avoid an eviction. She has hoarding tendencies, and has been working with NSO for a few months. She was praying for help. She had an inspection (after she had received a 60-day extension from her last inspection) and the inspector told her she had until 4 p.m. to get her house cleaned or she was at risk of being evicted. Volunteers loaded up bags, boxes, and furniture that she sorted through and dropped off at the Salvation Army. Volunteers also washed dishes, swept and mopped the floor, scrubbed the bathroom, took out trash, cleaned the oven, reorganized furniture, and organized the basement. The inspector said "This looks much better" and the homeowner passed her inspection.

One homeowner was a senior who has called NSO repeatedly for lawn care had six volunteers at his house. He was at risk of a break-in because his yard was overgrown, the paint on his house peeling, and the weeds along his fence were high. He told us that he did not feel safe in his home because it looked abandoned and he could not afford to have someone clean it up. He also has an awning over his side door that has been leaking water. In the winter this freezes, causing him to slip and fall in the past. One Motown Mission volunteer inspected the gutters and found that they were completed blocked by debris (some plants were even growing inside) and that was what was causing the leak. Volunteers mowed the lawn, cleared the weeds, scraped the old paint off his doors and painted them, and cleaned the gutters. The homeowner said he has had four neighbors comment on how great his house looks.

The last service project was for a homeowner who is blind and lives with his wife in Northwest Detroit. Six volunteers gave their front and back yard the works: they trimmed the hedges, mowed the grass, cleaned up tree limbs and debris that had fallen from the storm and hedged along the side of the house.

When partnering with NSO, Motown Mission volunteers can make a difference in the lives of elderly members of our community.


Forging a New Relationship

I grew up in Novi, which is a suburb 30 minutes west of Detroit. My family is from Detroit, though - my parents grew up in the city, and my grandparents and great-grandparents all lived in the city.

The dialogue about Detroit in my family has always featured a dichotomy of us and them. This thinking divides Metro Detroit across a variety of lines - race, class, and Eight Mile. Most of my family members had strong opinions about things that were going on in Detroit, but they were distinctly opinions of people who left the city, consistently affirming that decision. As a kid, I thought this was oversimplified, but didn't know any more than that.

When I moved to the other side of the state for college, I started to notice things that made it clear that I grew up in Metro Detroit. In my freshman year, I noticed that not everyone had a minor obsession with identifying car models, and that not all adults knew their way around Detroit. It was clear to me that I had some kind of relationship to the city, but I didn’t know what that was, or what it meant.

I’m here this summer because I want to forge that relationship for myself. I want to gain a better understanding of the city, independant of my family’s baggage.

I’m also here to foster spiritual transformation. In middle and high school, I didn’t like going to church, but I loved going to camp. For me, it was a place where I could connect with God on my own terms, and a place where I could ask questions. I felt like I was at home when I went to camp, a feeling that I didn’t have anywhere else.

When I was in high school, I also went to Appalachia Service Project. ASP is like Motown Mission - they send groups of youth to fix up homes in Appalachia. I found a great deal of meaning in the experiance of moving out of my comfort zone to serve others. It also made me want to find other ways to serve.

I doubt that I was alone in that. For a lot of youth, sitting in a church pew isn't much of a spiritual experiance. Even now, I feel closer to God when I'm working in the garden at Michigan Urban Farming Initative than when I'm singing a hymn indoors. Combining the outdoors, service work, and God has been transformational for me, and I want to provide that same transformational experience for young people.

Samantha Macy is a senior at Western Michigan University, where she studies Public Relations.

Let Me Introduce Motown…


“What is Motown Mission?”

“What do you do?”

“Why do you do these things?”

These are questions that I am asked frequently when I say that I’m a Motown Mission Intern. Allow me to field some of these questions for you. First, let me introduce myself. Hello, my name is Cameron Davis, Detroit native, recent college graduate from Adrian College, and third-time returning intern for this amazing program aiding in the revival of this glorious city I call home.

Now, let me answer those questions about Motown. Motown Mission is a non-profit volunteer commissioning program partnered with numerous project partners in and around Detroit and the greater-Detroit area. Currently, we are mostly a facilitating program focused on housing, feeding, and providing worksites for volunteer groups to do missional work. We are partnered with amazing programs revolving around home repair, greening, and feeding while dabbling in Bible studies and youth programs. We send our volunteers to programs like: Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), Motor City Blight Busters, Rippling Hope, Neighbors Building Brightmore, Joy-Southfield Community Development Organization, etc. All of our partners with an established name in their respective areas of work focus. With MUFI, we are trying to feed the North-End/New Center neighborhoods with fresh produce from their backyard. With Blight Busters, we are removing dilapidated buildings and turning them into manageable properties or revamping them into small gardens or other community-oriented structures. Neighbors Building Brightmore, Joy-Southfield, and Rippling Hope all aim at beautifying, upkeep, and minor home repairs for communities with disadvantaged homeowners who would, otherwise, have no means for making/keeping their living space livable.

Now, onto answering why I do this work. I work with Motown Mission because of the incredible stories, the tears of happiness, the smiles, the hard-worked, hot summer days ending with the satisfaction knowing what you did for the past eight hours made a visible and significant difference in the community. I also work with Motown Mission because this is my home. These are only a few of the reasons why I continue to serve through Motown Mission and hopefully some of these reasons resonate with you or others that can motivate and solidify the drive to serve this summer or any time in the future with Motown Mission.

Cameron Davis is a recent Adrian College graduate with a degree in business administration and three-time returner to Motown Mission. This summer you will find Cam in Metropolitan UMC’s kitchen, coordinating meals for Motown and handling all tasks dubbed hospitality.  



Eleven years ago, I had no idea that Motown Mission would become what it is today. 

First Motown Mission team on beautiful Belle Isle, April 2005.

In 2005, I brought a group of middle school students from Birmingham First United Methodist Church to Detroit for a week of service. Sometimes I wonder what keeps volunteers, summer staff, and even me coming back each year.

It must be something about this place and these people.  The Motor City continues to call and form young people in missional living. Whether families who've lived in neighborhoods for generations, or youth visiting for the first time - there's something that grabs each of us. One of my favorite stories from the early years was a young woman who left before the end of the week to go take the Pre-SATs.  By the time we reached the worksite that Saturday morning I got a call from her. She was sitting in the parking lot of the testing location realizing (through a conversation with her mom) that her time in Detroit seemed more important than any scantron sheet.  "Can I come back?" she asked. "YES!" was the answer.

From project partners to homeowners, stories of people in Detroit engage visitors deeply. The narratives of hope amid struggle, of ongoing artistic expressions and cultural gems here, the new adventures being birthed. They all keep us coming back.

This year we are asking - "How can we invite people into the rootedness of this place? How can we help them see Detroit's identity as an incubator of hope and strength?"  After 11 years and $2 million worth of contributions and time - how is our presence here becoming a part of the resiliency of Motown?

Some of our past participants have had some ideas about that.  Sara was here earlier in 2015 and she wrote about her experiences for a class.  Hopefully you've got some reflections of your own.  Share something with us, ask us some more questions.  And above all know that the grace and justice we know from Jesus is alive and well here in Hopetown - Detroit, MI.

The Revitalization of Brightmoor by Sara Hoppe

Carl Gladstone is a deacon who founded Motown Mission in 2005, when he was a youth pastor at Birmingham First United Methodist Church. Gladstone is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Albion College. Gladstone's other claim to fame is his childhood appearance on "America's Funniest  People."

Reconnecting at the Zoo!

We were happy to hear that the Geneva Pres. group reconnected with their Metro Kidz friends just a couple weeks after their Motown Mission trip!  Since the day camp program was planning an outing to the Detroit Zoo, Nancy and the youth team decided to join them.

We love it when Motown Mission volunteers make connections with people and programs in Detroit that keep them coming back together!  Thanks for making that happen friends.