By the morning of Rollingwood’s 2018 spring festival, no one had committed to present the gospel yet. But ever since the first festival in the fall of 2014, God always provided someone to share the gospel message, even if it was at the last minute. So the event’s organizer, Rhonda Hawks, kept asking around and hoping.
Hawks loves the kids in this apartment complex; she organizes these festivals twice a year for them and their families. This year dozens of volunteers from Parkway and Bethany House showed up with games, face painting, crafts, hotdogs, and a cotton candy machine for the community to enjoy.
The most important time at each of these festivals is when a brave volunteer stands up to present the gospel. If you ask Hawks about any prayer requests around festival time, she’s likely to mention this need. But this spring, no one could do it.
“It can be frustrating when you feel the lack of support,” Hawks said. But rather than dwelling in frustration, she feels like “it’s spiritual warfare.”
“If you’re doing what the Holy Spirit has lead you to do, there’s going to be spiritual warfare because obviously Satan does not like what’s going on [here] because he doesn’t like the gospel spread,” Hawks said.
Hawks was hesitant to present the gospel herself because she wanted it to be special for the kids. They already hear her voice a lot. Every Thursday from 4-6 p.m. Hawks and a few faithful volunteers like Mary Kay Ayers and Ben Cornatzer show up at Rollingwood to love, mentor, serve, and teach God’s Word to the kids who live there. Hawks teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) at Chalkley Elementary, which is where Rollingwood kids go to school. Many of them belong to immigrant families from all over Latin America, so a lot of them are her ESL students.
After the kids enjoyed the festival’s food and games, Hawks gathered them around her to hear the gospel message – just like a regular Thursday afternoon.
“I’m trying to remember that this is God’s,” she said. “And he loves these kids even more than I can love [them].”
Hawks first took notice of the Rollingwood apartments because that’s where many of her students lived, and she wanted to invest in them beyond her classroom.
“There’s just something about it,” she said. “It’s where I know God wants me to be—to live missionally. No matter what’s going on in my life, Rollingwood is my stress-relief, as crazy as that sounds. There are some crazy kids.”
The Rollingwood kids get loud and rowdy like any other group of kids, but Hawks knows most of their families and listens to their stories. Unlike other groups of kids, they’ve lived through stories of trauma, injustice, and trying really hard, but not quite making ends meet.
“These kids live a very transient lifestyle,” Hawks said. “There’s a lot of trauma and turmoil in their lives and not a lot of stability. So on Thursdays we provide stability for them.”
Through this ministry at Rollingwood, kids can come learn games and enjoy a safe environment. They hear stories from the Bible, and Hawks is excited because she has noticed that the kids are starting to ask deeper questions about what it means to be a Christian. She said they are beginning to understand that choosing to follow Christ is a lifestyle change—not just a ticket to heaven.
“It’s cool that they’re starting to have these conversations with us because sometimes you feel like the sower in the parable, and you don’t know where [the seeds are] falling,” Hawks said.
It took some time for the kids to trust Hawks and the other volunteers enough to share these questions in their hearts. The Rollingwood kids are used to people leaving in their lives, so the volunteers’ faithfulness in ministry means a lot to them.
While Hawks and a few others spend time with the kids each Thursday, other groups and individuals committed to come once a month or to each spring and fall festival. The consistency matters more than the frequency.
She said it’s certainly not harmful for new volunteers to come sporadically, “just know they might not be as open with you. But they love attention.”
Help with festivals is always appreciated, but Hawks is praying for God to provide for their biggest need—men.
“We have a bunch of middle school boys and some high school boys,” she said. “They don’t always sit through the lesson because it’s not cool, or they’ll get distracted. We’re really just praying for someone who would come and have intentional conversations. Like: while playing football, incorporate the gospel.”
Even if the boys hear just a part of the Bible lesson, Hawks has faith that “the Word does not return void” (Isaiah 55:11).
When she prepares a Bible lesson for Thursday afternoons, she has learned to hold onto it loosely and be ready for the Holy Spirit to direct her lesson elsewhere. Like on a recent Rollingwood day, she started her lesson on Saul when one of the kids, confused, asked why they were talking about “salt.” She rolled with it and told the kids that salt was in the Bible too. She told them all about how God wants his people to be salt and light in the world. The kids loved it and responded to the lesson that day perhaps more passionately than they would have if Hawks stuck to her schedule.
“Scripture tells us to be ready to give an answer for what you believe,” Hawks said. “I’ve noticed a lot at Rollingwood, I’ll plan a lesson, then a question comes up. That’s where, in my faith and in my walk with Christ, [I ]constantly have to be in the Word, constantly praying. Because [I] want to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and wherever he’s leading their hearts.”
Hawks said the ministry would love to welcome more volunteers willing to show God’s love to Rollingwood kids.
“We would love more people to care,” Hawks said. “A lot of times people are scared around that area or feel uncomfortable. It’s a different culture [and] a different socioeconomic group than they might be used to. [But] it’s good to open your eyes to the other side of Chesterfield.”
Written by Emily Hall.
A member of Parkway Baptist Church