4 / UrbanPromise

An Antidote to Nihilism

Hallie is MSPC’s brilliant and beloved Associate Pastor. Dr. Sam had been our strong and sure Head of Staff/Pastor for the past eight years. In January of 2013 Dr. Sam unexpectedly announced that he would be retiring in February. MSPC quickly acquired an Interim Pastor, Reverend Dudley to fill the Head of Staff/Pastor’s position while MSPC embarked on the lengthy search for a new full-time Head of Staff/Pastor. In March 2013, when we sat down to discuss the Arctic Ride For Dreams, Reverend Dudley had been at MSPC for only one month.

Hallie wrote an article in the March issue of MSPC’s monthly newsletter entitled From My Heart To Yours. The article was an illustration, among many others in this book, how beautifully God orchestrates events.

As myself, Hallie and MSPC’s youth group were beginning to organize some details of my trip into the Alaskan wilderness, as MSPC progressed through Lent together and embarked upon the search for a new Pastor, Hallie wrote these appropriate words in the newsletter: “During Lent, we always talk about the wilderness. This year, we’re not just talking about the wilderness, but we’re walking through it together. Any time we’re experiencing a great change it can feel as if we’re flailing around in uncharted territory a bit. But remember, we come from a long line of wilderness walkers. For us, the wild is a familiar place …Manna is tasty in the wilderness, but is nothing compared to the milk and honey in the Promised Land. Let’s look forward and envision what that land might look like together. God has a plan for us, and it’s a good plan. Let’s let God take us there.”

And so in our many ways we all embarked on a journey into the wilderness together.

Reverend Dudley and Hallie both had graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Founded in 1812 it is the second-oldest seminary in the United States and the largest seminary associated with the Presbyterian Church USA.

As Lent progressed through the month of March a small group gathered each Sunday morning at MSPC for a Lenten study. Hallie led us through the chapters of The Promise Effect: Altering The Universe By Being God’s Promise by Dr. Bruce Main.

Dr. Main had founded UrbanPromise Ministries. In 1988 Bruce Main opened the doors of a small summer program in Camden, New Jersey– one of America’s poorest and most dangerous cities. The program grew into citywide after-school programs, a host of other programs and an international organization with centers in Camden, Trenton, Wilmington, Vancouver, Toronto, Miami, Malawi and Honduras. ABC’s Diane Sawyer featured UrbanPromise in a 20/20 Special and became a vocal supporter of UrbanPromise’s work.

UrbanPromise’s mission to this day is to equip children of underprivileged areas, who often have nowhere to go and no supervision after school, with the necessary skills for academic achievement, life management, spiritual growth, and Christian leadership. The children of UrbanPromise enter UP centers without much hope and filled with a sense of nihilism. They leave as people who are far along the path to developing and realizing their full potential. New UrbanPromise centers continue to appear in US cities and around the world.

When Dr. Main started UrbanPromise, and for some time afterwards, he was a teaching professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, from which Hallie and Dudley graduated. Dr. Main taught some of Hallie’s classes.

Reading through The Promise Effect during Lent, Hallie learned that Dr. Bruce Main would be coming to Miami at the end of March to open a brand new center in Miami. Bruce Main is a man who travels the world as a much-in-demand speaker. He always has a full schedule but Hallie invited Dr. Main to come and speak to Miami Shores Presbyterian Church while he was in Miami. On March 24th, at the end of Lent, Dr. Main did indeed come to speak to all of us at MSPC.

Prior to Dr. Main’s visit I asked Hallie if she would introduce me to Dr. Main. Perhaps if I presented my idea to Bruce Main I could raise funds for UrbanPromise also. Before Dr. Main arrived at MPSC I researched UrbanPromise and discovered that perhaps there was something else I could do for UrbanPromise– visit each center!

By March I had mapped out an approximate route for the journey. My route would take me to States in the USA that I hadn’t been to before. I didn’t choose specific roads but I decided that I would travel directly north from Miami to Michigan, then head west just south of the Canadian border to Washington State, then head northbound into Canada, through British Columbia, catch a ferry along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska (I wanted to see Alaska by sea and by land), arrive in Anchorage, head north towards Fairbanks and beyond to the Arctic Circle along the Dalton Highway. Then I would turn around and begin to head home via Canadian Provinces including the Yukon Territory and Alberta until I reached the Trans Canada Highway. I’d then complete a dream of traveling across the width of Canada on the Trans Canada Highway all the way to Nova Scotia. Then head south again into the USA, through the northeastern States in the Autumn and southbound back home to Miami.

Having the route roughly mapped out and then researching UrbanPromise I discovered that every North American UrbanPromise center was along my planned route. I smiled. Perfect.

I hoped to approach Bruce Main with the idea of not only fundraising for UrbanPromise but also visiting every center and collecting the dreams of the children to send home and be tied to MSPC on ribbons.

Hallie introduced me– “this is the guy with the crazy motorcycling idea.” Bruce Main smiled warmly. Hallie hadn’t told Bruce much– she left that to me. I explained the idea and Dr. Main and I had an enthusiastic initial conversation about dreams and promises and making an anniversary video. Bruce also mentioned that 2013 was UrbanPromise’s 25th anniversary year– a perfect occasion for such a dream ride to the Arctic to help mark the anniversary. There were a lot of celebratory events happening.

During the next two months I corresponded with Bruce and the staff at UrbanPromise. We firmed up plans for me to visit each of the six centers: Vancouver, Toronto, Camden, Trenton, Wilmington and Miami. At each center I would visit with the children, aged from 5 to 18 years old. I would tell them about my dream journey and encourage them to follow their dreams, plus collect all of their dreams to send them back to Miami Shores Presbyterian Church where the congregation would be praying for them.

It was our hope that these children with so little hope would be inspired and motivated to “dream big!” We hoped to show them that dreams can come true and let them know a group of people hundreds or thousands of miles away were thinking of them, praying for them, considering them of value– a small antidote to the nihilism that Dr. Main described as being the biggest threat to these children.

And so, UrbanPromise became the second charity the Arctic Ride For Dreams would raise funds for. There would be hundreds of children to go and visit.

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By Andrew Hayward Smith © 2015 All Rights Reserved. Copyright Andrew Hayward Smith. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced without the author’s written consent.