Statistically speaking, New York City’s South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven is one of the most difficult and dangerous places in America to raise children. Fifteen years ago, Andrew Mann moved here from a rural Missouri community to do what he calls “upside down” ministry. What has happened since then is quite a story.
Learn how you and your church can reach out to families living in challenging inner-city environments at SendRelief.org/Poverty.
(Andrew) Honestly, probably the confirmation comes in the struggles. It’s in the heartache. We say, “If you want to see things change, you have to be around long enough.” The relationship you have with them is the way the gospel can be shared because they’re going to see that over the long term in your life.
(VO) Andrew Mann has been living life along side the people of the South Bronx in New York City for 15 years. For a guy who grew up in rural Missouri, his neighborhood—called Mott Haven—might seem to be an odd place to settle down. But by putting in the years, when people in Mott Haven need help, Andrew is now the person they turn to.
(Joann) People know that Andrew cares for them, and because of that, they’ve taken him in as one of their own. He is a part of the South Bronx.
(VO) “Stories of Hope” is a podcast about people who meet needs, build relationships, and change lives.
(VO) In this episode, Andrew Mann and Graffiti 2 Community Ministries and Church do what they call “Upside Down” ministry. Start with ministry and then build a church, or more simply, “meet the need, first.”
(VO) This is “Stories of Hope” from Send Relief—“Episode 12, “A Safe Haven in Mott Haven.”
(Andrew) At Graffiti 2 we are in the Mott Haven part of the South Bronx. It’s a neighborhood of challenging circumstances. The needs we have here, we see are connected to families, and that’s where Graffiti 2 tries to focus at least the heart part of what we do.
(NS of street noise in the Bronx)
(VO) The neighborhood where Graffiti 2 sits has 90-thousand people living in two square miles, and 30-thousand of them are under the age of 18. Three years ago, Joann Lira moved here from Texas to work with Andrew Mann.
(Joann) Kids I feel like grow up a lot faster here. There’s responsibility placed upon them that they may not necessarily be prepared to handle. The oldest sibling becomes parent so they are not only taking on responsibility for themselves, but for their younger siblings.
(VO) Sixth-grader Anthony and his eighth grade sister, Anna have grown up here in Mott Haven. They see the good and the bad.
(Anthony) It’s kind of like rough and fun at the same time because things like bad happen around here. Like people, like dying and getting killed and stuff. So it’s like kind of rough, we gotta watch our backs these days. Cause you don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow or like the future.
(Anna) Sometimes it’s like what he said, violence, gangs, whatever. But some of them are like good, so yeah.
(VO) A few years ago, Anna and Anthony’s mom, Reena, came to Graffiti 2 for a back to school sale and learned about the G2 after school program. As a single mom, working nights, it was reassuring to know someone else cared about her children.
(NS with Andrew and Anthony, (Andrew) “Who’s better at basketball, Anthony or Andrew?” (Laughter) (Anthony), “Umm, I don’t know about that because yesterday was my bad day.” (Laughter)
(Andrew) I remember Anthony growing up as a little boy in afterschool program. Sometimes he was a little combative and a little bit of a knucklehead, and we get our fill of knuckleheads around here that’s for sure.
(Joann) Anthony is a completely different boy from the boy I met. He was definitely at the point where he wanted to challenge anything and everything.
(VO) Over the years, the staff at G2 have invested in Anthony and Anna, and seen their lives change.
(Joann) He is interested in doing well in school, he wants to be helpful with our younger students, he has been a joy to watch.
(Anna) The people make it safe for us because they’re always caring for us, taking care of us.
(VO) Reaching families like Anna, Anthony and their mom has required Graffiti 2 to approach ministry a little bit differently.
(Andrew) Graffiti 2 we have a strategy we describe as upside down. So rather than starting with church that’s going to grow faithful people and those faithful people are going to go out and do ministry. We turn that upside down. We start with ministry and we say, “Meet the need, first.” We talk about meeting a need, we say, “Hey, there’s needs there.” We start with that, but it needs to lead to something else.
(Joann) Graffiti 2 has a lot of different facets. We’re kind of a safe haven in Mott Haven. Meeting a need is huge, and people will come to us because there is a need that needs to be met, not because they’re looking for Jesus most of the time.
(VO) For Graffiti 2 meeting needs begins with families and children. Joann Lira is the children’s director.
(Joann) What I have seen working with students in the South Bronx is that there are often gaps that are left in their education and when all of those little gaps add up, you find yourself with a second grader that isn’t able to read yet. We’re able to spend one-on-one time with the students, and say, “Okay, these are the holes in the education that need to be filled.”
(VO) Filling educational holes begins with their after-school program. Joann picks up the elementary aged kids at their school and walks them to the ministry center.
(NS of Joann picking up the kids from school)
(VO) But before the kids are able to fill holes in their education, they have to fill the holes in their tummies.
(NS of passing out food at the afterschool.)
(Joann) The first thing is always snack because we will not work on homework if we are hungry. (Laughs) So, the first thing we try to provide is a nutritional snack for them, something they know that they can count on that every day when they come here, they are going to get to eat. And that’s a pretty big thing.
(NS of afterschool tutoring)
(VO) After the elementary aged kids arrive, the middle schoolers and high schoolers show up. Everyone gets help with their homework, and then it is the “Game of Life.”
(NS of kids playing the game of life)
(VO) Youth director Josh Johnson created the game to help prepare his students for the real world.
(NS of kids playing the game of life)
(Josh) So we take the real life applications and build it into this curriculum that allows them to see that life is not a game, it’s real.
(VO) Middle school sister and brother Anna and Anthony are learning things that many adults in their neighborhood do not know.
(Anna) The college that I go to is expensive. So you know, college in real life is expensive, too. So it’s helping me save money.
(Anthony) Housing, vehicles, 401K; I never knew that we had to do this in real life so I learned something new about the game.
(VO) For Joann, Andrew and Josh every ministry opportunity is a way to build a relationship. And in every relationship, there’s a chance to change a life.
(Josh) Whenever we see the little milestones that are accomplished within our students, every milestone becomes a miracle to me. If we can change a students life one degree today, 20 years from now that one degree has turned into 20 degrees, 25, 30. It impacts a generation.
(VO) Anna will be moving up to high school this fall. In New York City, getting into the right high school is more like getting into college. Youth director, Josh helped Anna build of list of 12 possible high schools, and she got number two on her list.
(Josh) It’s one of those things where you have to fight back the tears because you’re excited for the student. Here is an 8th grader who pretty much got the equivalent of getting a college acceptance letter.
(Joann) When you see a student start to succeed, they love to share. You know, we’ll celebrate the small things so that when bigger things come along, they want to share those with us.
(Josh) It’s a place that we call home. Our students become part of our family. We are not here just for a short minute, we’re not here doing a short-term ministry. We’re doing something that generation after generation is going to have an impact.
(VO) In the decade-plus years that Andrew has been here, he has seen kids who started with Graffiti 2 in elementary school graduate from college. But more importantly, he has built relationships that have changed lives for eternity.
(Andrew) There’s something that you learn from the people, the kids, the teenagers, the lives that you walk with. It’s not just something you give, you need to be able to receive. It’s blessed to be right where you’re supposed to be, and doing the thing that makes your heart sing, and trust God with the rest of it.
(VO) This has been “Stories of Hope” from Send Relief, Episode 14, “A Safe Haven in Mott Haven”.
(VO) To learn more about Graffiti 2, their ministry in the Bronx, and how they are helping churches build afterschool ministries across the U-S, go to send relief dot org. To hear one amazing story of how Andrew and Graffiti 2 helped one rural Louisiana church build a ministry to kids in their community, check out Stories of Hope episode number 10—“My Church Came to Me.”
(VO) If you enjoyed this episode of “Stories of Hope”, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts. It will help other people find us and hopefully enjoy it, too. And join us in two weeks for another episode of “Stories of Hope.”