Spreading Kindness - Reflections on my second summer on staff with Motown Mission

Kyra Asbury, Motown Mission Summer Staff

Kyra Asbury, Motown Mission Summer Staff

I have learned a lot about intentionality when it comes to spreading kindness, the theme this summer at Motown Mission. This is my second summer and I believe God brought my specific gifts to Detroit this summer in many ways as the Spirituality Coordinator. I think the thing I have learned the most this summer was how important it was to make connections with the youth, and I think our ability as Motown summer staffers to connect with youth is a gift we bring to Motown and to the energy of Detroit. For example,  we often host middle school youth that come to volunteer with us and although they are enthusiastic, they can sometimes be apprehensive because they work long hours and can spend their days in the hot sun. I always try to keep an upbeat attitude with them, specifically in the morning during breakfast. I myself am not a morning person but working with Motown I have learned that the start of your morning is the base of your day, so you can either choose to have a good day or a bad one. Like most middle school students, the majority of them aren’t morning people so I always try to be most joyful in the morning whether it’s telling a funny story or just simply listening to them tell me how tired they are that morning.  If I can make the youth smile in the morning it usually sets them up for a great day interacting with our partner organizations around the city of Detroit, and they return to Motown for dinner still smiling even though they look a lot more tired than at breakfast!

During my past two summers at Motown, I learned the importance of being intentional in my interactions with the volunteers not only at breakfast, but at dinner and evening gathering too. I always try to let them know that we are most appreciative of them (volunteers) because without them the majority of what Motown Mission stands for would not be possible. It has been an amazing journey to watch the youth grow in the course of a week, and I pray that Motown Mission continues to make an impact on the youth and the city of Detroit. With that being said it has been a heartwarming experience I will forever cherish and I wholeheartedly appreciate the opportunity to have spent my last two summers with Motown and the city of Detroit!

Kyra Asbury is a junior at the University of South Alabama studying psychology. This is her second summer on staff at Motown Mission.

Working with Block Clubs

motown2019Artboard 1 copy 5 (1).png

In 2018 we shifted our focus from established organizations to working with neighborhood associations and block clubs. Here’s some thoughts about what it takes to work with a block club from US-2 Lynda.

Block Clubs are groups of people who have homes and families on any given block in the city and have organized to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. A little part of my job as an Outreach Coordinator is to find block clubs near Motown Mission to work with. Attending block club meetings are very important because I get to see people that care about their neighborhood. I get to see the connection between Motown Mission and the Detroit neighborhood about doing something positive. Whenever I attend a new block club, I simply tell them about Motown Mission, who I am and the connection between the two. The block clubs are mostly elders in the community. Motown Mission is able to provide th volunteers to the block clubs we are working with.

What is it like to host teams?

We asked US-2 Lynda what it is like to host teams…
“You learn something new every time,” she says.


I’ve always been a more hands-on sort of young lady and never shy away from a crowd. When realizing that welcoming groups would be part of my job, it never frightened me. I’ve been in choir all my life and was in my school band all throughout high school. I’m an entertainer at heart, so welcoming teams was a bonus. While those things have thought me to be comfortable before a large group of people, facilitating groups taught me the value of behind the scene work.

Planning for a group has many steps: shopping for supplies ahead the team arriving, planning the day’s work, figuring out where and what teams will be doing, sending an update to project partners about them receiving groups, reaching out to groups to double confirm they have the correct address and work plan, getting an estimated time of arrival, and much more!

Facilitating a group is incredible - I get to tell them a bit about myself and my call from God, and about what Motown Mission is. I also get to share about the General Board of Global Ministries. Additionally, I have the opportunity to share about the project partners and the work that is before us. Working with teams taught me to work “alongside” instead of hovering over the team while they are attempting to get the work done, it taught me to speak up in a situation when you notice the work is not being done the proper way, and to be able to demonstrate how to do it accordingly. It has taught me that you can't just be your job title - this provides limitations. Rather, you can be right with them, in the middle of the work, eating lunch together, telling stories, hearing perspectives, and sharing laughs. Although through times, I’ve mastered a routine about hosting team, every team are different. You learn something new every time.

Returning to Motown for year two...?

Nykeshia shares her perspective on returning to serve Motown Mission as Summer Center Director.

This summer was my second at Motown Mission. I learned so much about missions and non-profit work last summer, I decided to come back, but in a different capacity. I took on the role of center director, a major difference from the position I held last summer. Looking at my experience, from two different positions, I am so appreciative of all the knowledge I have gained during my two summers here. I think that the biggest lessons I have learned from my time here in Detroit, is to take chances, and be honest with yourself and others.


When I first decided I was going to commit to a summer of service in Detroit I was so scared. The thought of being away from home, for so long was terrifying. Even this year, when I decided to return and take on the role of center director, I was nervous. Motown has taught me the importance of taking chances and being brave because you never know what opportunities you will miss out on. Don’t be afraid to step out on your faith and try something new, even if that means traveling across country for a summer of service in a city new to you. Don’t be afraid to meet new people and make new friends, or have conversations with people who don’t have the same views as you. Welcome situations that may challenge you, and allow them to become valuable learning experiences.

I have also learned to honest with myself and people I share space with. Work days are so long, and while you are living in intentional community with the same people who you work with, it is important to speak up for yourself and voice when you are feeling tired, overwhelmed, or when you want to express where you saw God that day, your joys, etc. Not only are you working, but you are apart of a community that Motown has built around you and will experience so many things with amazing people who are in the same stage in life as you. Lean on your fellow team members for support, and be present. The summer will go by fast, and you should savor it.

Nykeshia is a junior at Tuskegee University.

Applying to the GMF US-2 Program

Why did you decide to apply for the GMF US-2 program?

Lynda Sylvain thumb.jpg

In 2016, I decided to join a mission program in Florida called YAMM: “young adult missionary movement.” Anyone who joins the Global Mission Fellow program (GMF) who goes to Florida will participate in this program.

Before GMF, I just happened to do the program. Toward the end of my one-year YAMM program, Director Heidi shared the GMF program with me. She noticed how much I grew and told me about the program four days before the application closed, so I had very little time to think about it. The little time I spent, I thought about everything I learned with the Glades Initiatives, which is the non-profit I was placed with. I worked as the course coordinator for their “Cooking Matters” course, I interacted with most of the people in that town because we offered the course essentially everywhere in the Belle Glade area. I have long interacted with community members or young children in high and middle schools. I thought how miserable I was before doing a regular job that didn't fulfill me spiritually, how happy I was in a city where I had no friends or family for the past year. The community was very welcoming, very warm, so I thought I would sign up if it were something like that. I applied for GMF, went through the very long process of interviewing and got accepted.

So far - with everything I learned and helping me put my goals and dreams into perspective - I don't regret this decision at all. I decided to go to the missionary field after working in the hospital as a CNA – it just didn’t do it for me anymore. I wasn't happy. I never was one to stay if I wasn't happy anywhere. I enjoyed working with the elders (i.e. taking them a shower when they haven't been bathed in days) and it usually brought joy to my heart to see their happiness through simple acts of service, but at one point it didn’t bring me joy any longer. Instead of being grumpy and staying in that job, I decided to seek God through my work and since then I’ve been on cloud nine.


Lynda began serving as a US-2 with Motown Mission in July of 2017. She will be in Detroit until summer of 2019. For more information on the GMF US-2 program, click here: https://www.umcmission.org/Get-Involved/Generation-Transformation/Global-Mission-Fellows/Become-a-Fellow/Become-a-GMF

Not Knowing What to Expect


What to Expect

when you're expecting...?

I came into this job knowing nothing about what I was going to be doing this summer. I knew I had a lot of options as to what my position might look like here, but I really had no idea what to expect. Not having any idea as to what my job was, was nerve wracking. I was worried I was not in the right spot, that God might be using this as a stepping stone to push me into someplace that I could gain something from. I was scared that I was unqualified or unable to do the jobs that were given to me. Motown has been none of what I just said, and everything I could have asked for.

Motown Mission has allowed me to stretch myself, but putting myself in a clear position of authority of those older than me. Even with that, I still feel comfortable being in that position though, just by how much help and prep is given to you at the start of the summer. This is not an easy job though. I was wondering if I would just be able to glide along and give no effort at all. I was expecting that this might be a waste of a summer. That has also been tremendously wrong.

I have had to put so much of myself into this job. Your position is important each and every day, and because of that, you need to be prepared to give all of yourself each and everyday. Every part of you needs to be healthy: body, mind, spirit, soul. It all matters. You are working with volunteers who are looking up to you for guidance and help through the whole week. You must be able to have a good week, because they need to. This part alone has been so helpful for me. It has enabled me to understand how my actions affect those around me and how to make sure that I keep those parts of me healthy and respect them. I came in with no expectations and left with skills that will last me a lifetime.

Austin is a senior at Taylor University majoring in Communications.

Why did Kyra choose Motown?


It comes to a point where a young adult is trying to figure out what they want to do with their life, feeling incomplete, and uninspired I took a leap of faith.. Literally. One night one of my closest friends was talking to me about her past summer internship - all the cool non-profit organizations she worked with, and all the different volunteers she formed bonds with. Intrigued, I applied literally at three in the morning. Soon as the application process began, I felt my faith growing. I was constantly praying for this opportunity, and having faith that God was going to bless me with it. I applied December and literally got accepted in May so you can only imagine the anxiety I faced everyday, wondering if I got a position, would I be able to escape the routine I faced every summer (working, and going to the beach). Finally I got the call and I was chosen. Therefore I honestly did not choose Motown, Motown chose me. I chose Motown because I wanted to be apart of a difference and do something I could be proud to say I did. I can definitely say that happened when “I chose Motown,” I say that statement only because this process has taught so much about myself as a person, the tools that I have picked up with working for Motown will come in handy. I have learned skills that will better my work ethic; I have built better problem solving skills, leadership skills, and communication skills. Motown can definitely be a challenging at times, but the rewards and the skills you pick up along the way are priceless. Originally my plan was to “pick" Motown because I wanted something different to do with my summer, and it definitely was that but it was also way more!


Kyra is a sophomore at Jefferson State University majoring in Psychology.

A day in the life of our Project Partner Coordinator: Choosing to Serve

Dustin and a group of volunteers working at Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

Dustin and a group of volunteers working at Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

When I applied to become a Motown staffer, I did what anyone would do – I checked out the Flickr photos and read this blog. Those two outlets gave me such an insight into this wonderful ministry. So as I look to give back to future staffers and future volunteers, I want to make my contribution something that helps y’all as much as it helped me. Here, I explore not what Motown does, not what volunteers do, and not even what the job of a staffer is. Instead, I want to walk you through what a day in the life of a Motown staffer looks like.

It begins with Sunday night. Every Sunday this summer, a new group would arrive, unpack, eat dinner, and spend their first evening gathering of the week learning about Motown’s ministry focus this year -- namely, what it means to do ministry WITH Detroiters rather than TO Detroiters.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that is precisely what my days looked like: I spent my days learning to live out the ‘ministry with’ that we had discussed.

Monday rolls around and we’re off to the worksite. Today, we’re working with a block club to clear brush, mow, and scrape sidewalks around an abandoned school. It’s the hottest day of the summer and there’s not a lick of shade. The trees, vines, and weeds seem endless. But the block club members eagerly welcome me and the volunteers. They have cool water and lemonade to drink, hot dogs for lunch, and a helping hand. Other neighbors from the area notice work being done, and grab their lawn mowers to help out too. People of all ages almost swarm the area. And still the trees, vines, and weeds seem endless. A neighborhood kid comes up and asks, “How long are you guys gonna’ be here working?” Response comes back in exaggerated humor, “Oh, I don’t know, until we’re done – maybe nighttime.” The kid’s eyes light up. “No, you’re not, cause I’m gonna help!” And he grabs a lawn mower from the nearest adult leader, asks how to use it, and he’s off to the races -- flying across the schoolyard making his own neighborhood look amazing. It would have been easy for me as a staffer on site to miss this. I could focus on my own task – scraping the sidewalks that seem miles long in the heat. Would I be doing ministry to the neighborhood? Sure. But I miss out on the joy that comes not from giving Christ’s love to Detroit, but that comes as I receive a glimpse of Christ’s love already at work here – in the heart of the neighborhood kid I am doing ministry with.

By Monday night toward dinnertime, I’m thinking ahead to the next day’s work –

preparing mental lists of tools to be assembled for work groups; figuring out a bedtime and wake-up time so that I can make it to the lumberyard for some drywall before 9am; deciding how to check in with Motown volunteers at dinnertime to get an insight into the challenges and joys of their work that day. My brain is a bit full and a bit tired. When my phone buzzes, I’m not completely excited to have another thing to think about just then. But it’s nobody more serious than my fellow staff member Nykeshia, sending me a very un-serious meme because she’s noticed I’m flagging a bit and needed some cheering up. Wow. This is doing ministry with staff, not ministry to staff.

By the time dinner wraps up and it’s almost time to head up for evening gathering, I’ve checked in with all but one of the work groups. I think to myself: “Just one more conversation and I’ll head upstairs to rest and refresh myself through worship.” Instead of asking this group leader about her day, however, she engages me. She asks me how I’m doing, what I like about my job, whether I like Detroit, where I’m from, where I’m going in life, how I think I’ll be following Jesus the rest of this summer and in future years. I’m simultaneously put at ease and taken aback. I’m at ease because it means so much to have this level of care and concern shown towards me, the staffer who is supposed to care for and concern myself with volunteers. I’m taken aback because I just now realize that I am still learning the lesson of Sunday – I can do ministry with Detroiters, I can do ministry with my fellow staff members, but I still have to learn to do ministry with our volunteers. And doing ministry with our volunteers fills me up, and surprises me with joy I didn’t expect on a hot, busy day.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday come around. I’m a bit surprised that I’m still learning the lesson of Sunday and Monday. I still have to learn to do ministry with everyone I meet. I still have to pick my eyes up to Christ from whence comes my help. Yes, I can and should create time to meet my Heavenly Father in the morning, alone, listening to him in the silence of a sunrise. But during the day, it’s a bit too easy to keep my head down, focusing on the task at hand, checking items off my to-do list. What a joy it is to do ministry with people, then -- to see Christ who “plays in 10,000 places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men’s faces.” That is Gerard Manley Hopkins, who gave me the words to understand what I am having to learn in every day as a Motown staffer -- that I have the amazing privilege to work in a job where my main role is to find Christ everywhere. To do this not just for others, but for myself, made being a Motown Staffer one of the most extraordinary succession of 78 days I have ever had.

Dustin is a senior at Hillsdale College, and is the best RA in the world. He enjoys cowboy boots and trucks -- and everything Texas. 


Kait reflects on serving with Motown for four summers...


As the 2017 season of Motown Mission comes to a close, it is crazy to think about how much this summer and my tenure here has meant to me. This year marks my fourth and final summer working at this transformative organization. My life has been touched by the people whom I've had the privilege of working alongside over the years and the numerous opportunities that this remarkable summer job has afforded me.

My first summer working at Motown was in 2013. I had just completed my freshman year at Michigan State University and my life was in transition. I had recently decided that I no longer wanted to continue studying engineering and I was anxious about starting a new path studying political science and history. With this anticipation of my sophomore year at college, I was hired on by Carl Gladstone as a general intern for Motown Mission, a nonprofit in Detroit that I was eager to experience and serve. 

I had no idea what God had in store for my life that summer.

Summer Staff 2013

Summer Staff 2013

My first summer at Motown went by so fast. I was learning so much about the organization, the volunteers, Detroit, the resilient residents, and God's work transforming the city. I met so many wonderful people and worked on many project sites alongside volunteers. I made meals with fellow staffers and learned the ropes of nonprofit service. We had many talented staffers that summer and we were all able to successfully facilitate the volunteers' experiences. It was the busiest summer of my life at that point (we would work from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.) but it was one of the most rewarding experiences.

I knew as soon as the summer was done that I wanted to go back to serve at Motown again. I was also interested in recruiting staffers who would work well and be great team members for Motown. I reapplied that fall, and in spring of 2014 Carl called me up to tell me that I was invited back to work that summer. All three of the interns that I recommended to apply for the summer were also hired on.

Summer Staff 2014

Summer Staff 2014

My second summer was a little different than my first. I was a returning staffer along with my good friend Cam Davis and we knew how the program functioned. I had difficulties with trying to recreate how things worked my first summer, and it took me a while to reconcile that things didn't have to be replicated for Motown to be successful. The new staffers and circumstances of the summer required new approaches for things to work out. In the end we were able to come together as a staff with our various strengths and weaknesses to make the summer meaningful for our volunteers and to make a difference in the lives of the people that were serving alongside in the city.

The third summer I worked at Motown brought its own unique set of circumstances and challenges. There were many different personalities on staff and we all had very different ways of approaching different situations that came up throughout the summer. Motown was bursting at the seams in terms of volunteer capacity--we had over 750+ volunteers chose to serve with us that summer. We brought on new project partners and changed our model for how we distributed service work for our volunteers throughout the week. Through the ups and downs, our staff was able to continue to support the transformation of our volunteers, project partners, and all those we served alongside in the city. This summer was the most challenging, but the bonds of the staffers were very strong at the end because of it.

In 2016, the summer after my first senior year, I was not able to work at Motown in the summer. By that time I was earning a Duel-Degree in Public Policy and History while simultaneously minoring in Spanish and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. If I wanted to graduate within 5 years, I needed to take summer classes for the first time in my academic career. 

I was disappointed that I couldn't serve, especially since it was a time of big transition for Motown. Rev. Carl Gladstone, founder/director of Motown Mission, took on a new position in the United Methodist Church and Rev. Sarah Alexander, a deacon in the UMC, was appointed as the new director and there was a change in the staffing model of Motown. In years past, there were about 8-10 general interns and now there are 5 staff members with specific job expectations. Sarah did invite me to work for one week when there were many volunteers coming to serve at Motown. That week getting to know the staff and working alongside them was one of the best weeks of my summer. 

At the beginning of my second senior year I was facing an impending and significant transition yet again. I needed to figure out what I was going to do after graduation. I decided that I did not want to go to grad school right away; I needed a year off from academia to decide if I truly wanted to earn another degree. So I considered different options to see what I wanted to do next. 

2017 Summer Staff (Including our director, US-2, summer chef, Foundry Sexton, and Foundry security cat).

2017 Summer Staff (Including our director, US-2, summer chef, Foundry Sexton, and Foundry security cat).

After a few conversations with Sarah about what it would look like if I returned to Motown and if my knowledge accumulated from three years of experience under the old staffing model would be helpful under the new model, I decided that a fourth summer as a staffer would work out. 

My fourth summer was by far one of the best summers that I experienced. We had a strong team that had a great dynamic. We all made use of our various talents and gifts to provide a transformational experience for our volunteers, project partners, and neighbors. God was at work in this experience and I am very glad that I was able to serve at Motown for one final summer.

Without Motown, I would not be the same person. Over the years I have met amazing people and I have had the privilege of working with incredible project partners. If it were not for Motown, I would not have my current jobs as the Volunteer Coordinator at the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, the project partner that I worked closely with as a Motown staffer, or my job as the Children and Youth Ministries Coordinator at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, the host church of Motown Mission. The staffers that I have worked alongside over these years are some of my closest friends. 

I am grateful for all of the staffers, volunteers, project partners, and residents that I have worked alongside during this time. If you have been part of my journey, thank you. I thank God for the experiences I have had at Motown and how these experiences have shaped who I am today.

Kait Szczypka
Summer Staffer Motown Mission 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017


Lessons From Being on Staff


My summer at Motown was definitely one to remember. While Motown Mission was not what I expected, I learned so much during my stay in Detroit, and am so glad that I chose to be a part of it. Joining the Wesley Foundation at my school was eventually how I would find out about Motown Mission. I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for the NEXT conference with my Wesley group, and while I was there, I met our director, Sarah. Sarah told me about the opportunity and the idea of Motown fit into how I wanted to spend my summer. I wanted to know how a nonprofit operated, while living in a new city and experiencing a new culture. With Motown, I got more than that out of the deal.

The biggest piece of advice I could give you is prepare to grow. There will be times when you are so exhausted, but just remember that you are doing this for a reason. Be present. Be aware of the greatness that surrounds you.
— Nykeshia Safford, '17 Staff

While I was learning about nonprofit work, I learned about different injustices that take place in Detroit. I learned about the call that God has over my life and how I can use that to benefit people my community. Patience and compassion were my two main character flaws before the summer and Motown helped me to improve both of those skills. Being able to extend grace to the people around you, and yourself is such an important lesson to learn. For me, the most important part of this summer was the relationships I formed with the people in Detroit, and the volunteers. Working alongside the people of Detroit was so rewarding, and they were so appreciative.

Another important lesson I learned as the summer progressed: while you are pouring into others, remember to refill your cup. Take time to yourself to reflect, and be alone. It was so uncomfortable at times to be so far away from home and working such long hours, but what I learned is that in order to grow you have to be uncomfortable. Like growing pangs. If you choose to work for Motown Mission you should know one thing for sure: you will be tested.

The biggest piece of advice I could give you is prepare to grow. There will be times when you are so exhausted, but just remember that you are doing this for a reason. Be present. Be aware of the greatness that surrounds you. Being on Motown’s staff will allow you to meet so many amazing people who work hard to bring hope to the people in the Detroit. Do not let the stereotypes that the media portrays about Detroit be the reason that you miss out on a fulfilling experience. The city has so many great things to offer, as does Motown Mission.

Introducing our new US-2, Lynda!

We asked a few questions of our new young adult missionary, Lynda Sylvain. Here's what she said about working, living, and serving in Detroit. Welcome Lynda!

Welcome to Detroit, Lynda!

Welcome to Detroit, Lynda!

Who are you?  
I am a protector,
I am a 25-year-old Haitian woman,
I am a woman trying to do better in this world,
I am a performer,
I don't shy away from a crowd,
I am a helper,
I am an advocate, If you ever find yourself without a voice, you can guarantee that If I'm around, I will speak up for you. I will always stand up for what's right in case of people being mistreated, bullying, etc., 
I say NO to the demands of the world. I say YES to the longings of my own heart.
I am a child of GOd trying to do right for his children of the world.
I am a young black woman trying to leave my mark in this world. 

Why are you serving in Detroit?
Detroit wasn't my first choice through my application process. I actually sign up for the international track but because of some health issues, the program thought it would be better for me to stay in the US. So, I ended up choosing California, Virginia, and Michigan. I didn't get to choose Detroit, but I learned not to question where God sends me. I believe he has wonderful plans for me and my placement site that's why he placed me here.  

What is GMF? 
GMF standing for Global mission fellow is a missionary program from everywhere to everywhere. Missionaries are sent to different cities and countries to work with programs and communities that are fighting the injustice, helping the poor, and so on. 

What are you excited about?
I'm excited about my job - so many skills to be learned, I'm excited to be helping, and to get a hands on experience. I'm excited to be in a new city, and to learn a new culture. I'm excited that I'm not in the same spot as I was a year ago. I'm excited about meeting new people. I'm nervous -- and yet excited to see snow. To experience this sort of winter "screaming internally."   

What are you nervous about? 
I'm nervous about winter as previously mentioned. I am nervous about my job. I had a weird experience with my previous missionary program where I didn't get the proper training and I was just thrown to the wolves, so it was super rocky for half the year I was there.
This is my second time working with non-profit so I'm usually used to the 90 days training etc, and after those 90 days, you never have to worry about me asking any questions cause I had the proper training, I usually know what I'm doing by then. 
I'm never nervous once starting a new job cause I know how good I can be at what I do but because of last year experience, I've been a little worried but I've been praying and God is working on me.

What are two things you are hoping to accomplish at Motown?  
1.) I can't wait to get through my first assignment and first summer at Motown
2.) Just to be awesome at what I do


Join us in supporting and praying for Lynda. She will be travelling to local churches to help raise her missionary salary. If you would like to learn more about Lynda, contact us at Motown Mission, and she would be glad to visit your church and share more about what she does as a GMF missionary, and volunteer/hospitality coordinator of Motown Mission! 

Lynda meeting one of Motown's Project Partners, Arts & Scraps. Here she is (left) pictured with their Warehouse Coordinator, Tonia (right).

Lynda meeting one of Motown's Project Partners, Arts & Scraps. Here she is (left) pictured with their Warehouse Coordinator, Tonia (right).

Our Detroit Affiliate! Left to right: Amy Brown (NOAH Project Executive Director), Lynda Sylvian (Motown Mission US-2), Grace Okerson (NOAH Project US-2), Isaac Dunn (NOAH Project US-2), Sarah Alexander (Motown Mission Director. Not pictured: Paul Perez (Affiliate coordinator).

Our Detroit Affiliate!
Left to right: Amy Brown (NOAH Project Executive Director), Lynda Sylvian (Motown Mission US-2), Grace Okerson (NOAH Project US-2), Isaac Dunn (NOAH Project US-2), Sarah Alexander (Motown Mission Director. Not pictured: Paul Perez (Affiliate coordinator).

The Story of a Summer in 10 Photos

Mitchell Eithun, Spiritual Life staffer, tells his story of being on staff at Motown Mission through 10 photos.


Ten of My Favorites Photos from Summer 2017

This summer I had the privilege of being the primary photographer for Motown Mission. Here are ten of my favorite photos I collected and the stories they tell.

#1: Patchwork


Before volunteer groups arrived in June, I was on a walk near our staff house and I saw this blown-out church building. The words “I will build my church” cry out from the ruble. This phrase is from Matthew 16:18 in which Jesus tells Peter that he is that rock that “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” This scene is striking juxtaposition between the holy and the broken.

Detroit is a patchwork city. Move from one block to the next and you drift from privilege to poverty or blight to delight.  This building made the goal of my summer clear: with the help of God, build the Church. Psalm 74 says “Have regard for your covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.” The haunts of violence permeate the City of Detroit, but thankfully God’s covenant made through Jesus Christ makes everything new.  If we simple show up we can take part in the ways that God is moving through the dark places.

#2 Band Names



From week to week our volunteers contributed their gifts to our nightly worship service. One particularly memorable night was Friday during Week 1, when we had three guitarists, a cajón player and more singers than I could than I can could count. It was a beautiful sight. During other weeks, other groups formed our creative volunteers played with band names like “Ali and the Gatorade Bottles,” “Pure” and “Got Him?”

#3: Fruit Salad



Our daily fruit salad crew begins at about 6:45am in the morning. Our dedicated volunteers not only completed long days of labor in the city, they also completed Motown Mission chores such as preparing meals and cleaning bathrooms. It was so helpful to work with joyful groups ready to serv!e!

#4: The work of Brightmoor - a Detroit neighborhood



One of the most meaningful projects I worked was during Week 2 with the Redford-Brightmoor Initiative, which works in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city. In many ways the project symbolizes the work that Motown Mission strives to do. The volunteer group renovated a prayer park in the Brightmoor neighborhood. They cleaned and weeded the green spaces and painted old church pews to serve as benches.

“Pray Here! Watch What God Will Do!” the sign exclaims. This park is a beautiful way that the Church has lived out its call to be present outside the “four walls” of the a building. In the process of cleaning and pruning, the dark places are made new just as God makes us new.

#5: God's Hands at the Foundry House



This is one of my favorite pictures from this summer. “God’s work. Our hands.” is the motto of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). At the Foundry House, home of mission interns, I was struck when I saw a volunteer wearing an ELCA t-shirt while “mudding” drywall. She was literally using her hands to do God’s work. Just like mudding drywall, ministry is messy, but if we put our hands and hearts to work, amazing things can happen.

#6: Sanctification through Service



A pair of shorts, a personal glove, and a Bacardi bottle. Those are three things I found in a field during our first day with Resource Community Development Corporation. As volunteers cleaned a blighted lot all I could think about was how the project was as a metaphor for sanctification.  Sanctification is the process of being made holy. John Wesley described the experience of sanctification as being "habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor.” Just as this lot is trimmed and garbage is removed, God works through us to trim us and helps us release our baggage. As Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:5).

The process of sanctification can be painful. In our walk with God and each other it is easy to become stubborn, complacent, or—worst of all—comfortable. But just like clearing blight from a field, when we allow God to prune use and clean us up, beautiful things emerge. After cleaning the lot, the neighborhood became safer. In our hearts, Jesus explains that when one of our demons returns, “it finds the house swept clean and put in order” (Luke 11:25). This  project was a wonderful parallel to the ways in which works through His people!

#7: You Make Beautiful Things



At Arts & Scraps, an educational non-profit in Detroit, our volunteers prepared science kits for children in poorly funded school. The kits are made from recycled materials donated by large corporation. As the singer Gungor proclaims, God makes “beautiful things out of the dust.”

#8: Matching T-Shirts and Celebrities



There were two celebrity encounters that I caught wind of this summer. In Week 5, Geneva Lutheran from Geneva, Illinois caught up with Mitch Albom. The Detroit native was promoted his new musical “Hockey” and his eye caught the group wearing their Motown Mission T-shirts. In Week 7, Chevy Chase UMC from Chevy Chase, Maryland was enjoying sweet treats at Detroit Ice on Woodward Ave. when they were approached by the cast of new movie Detroit, which was being premiered that evening at the Fox Theatre. Again, they noticed the group’s matching T-shirts. Those shirts were a good idea.

#9: A Big Pulpit to Fill



Central UMC, farther down Woodward Ave. from our home at Metropolitan UMC is the home of the first Protestant congregation in Michigan.  The church has a history of social activism, including opposition to the capital punishment in the 19th century and a push toward racial integrate in 20th century. Today the building houses the NOAH project, a homelessness ministry whose goal is to Network, Organize, Advocate for the homeless. Our volunteers worked with their bag lunch program. Here they are pictured in Central’s pulpit, where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached during the civil rights era.

#10: A New Way of Doing Mission


During Week 8 I met Rev. Elizabeth A. Hill, District Superintendent of the Blue Water District, a district of the Detroit Conference of The United Methodist Church. Their district joined together smaller churches who had a few youth to come together and form a larger team. This was a cool way to do ministry in the 21st century. She her husband Dick originally met while attending Metropolitan UMC and were filled with fantastic stories about the magnificent church building. Together we snuck on the roof of Metropolitan UMC and received a great view of Woodward Ave.



Different angles reveal different perspectives, but our earthly perspective will always be lacking. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” This speaks to the ambiguity of the human condition how truly difficult it is to fully understand God’s intentions. But home marvelous is it that we are caught up in God’s beautiful redemptive plan!

Likewise, these pictures only tell part of the story. Why not come to Motown Mission and experience Detroit for yourself?

Register online for the 2018 summer season of life-changing picture-perfect moments. 


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.