North Greenville University’s Downtown Impact Team spends two days each week working with the homeless in downtown Greenville.
“I was so used to doing VBS with kids and typical youth group activities,” Bethany Mustin, a junior English major from Clemmons, N.C., said. “I wanted to do something that was more community-oriented and get out of the Christian norm.”
The team, which consisted of only four students in 2006, has grown tremendously in three years. The group originally ministered on Thursdays only, but has since expanded to Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
“In the beginning, we would cook food and we had a storeroom of clothes and blankets, but we can’t use church buildings downtown anymore. So it’s just us and a van. We do what we can,” Mustin said.
The Tuesday group works with Food for Life, a ministry led by Paul Bulmer and located at Triune Mercy Center. The impact team takes this time to eat with the homeless, invest in their lives and live relationally with them.
Mustin has been a part of the team since her freshman year. She says her ministry is very relational. On Tuesday nights, she helps with Food for Life but mainly spends time with her homeless friends, both new and old.
“If I see people that I’ve known, then I sit with them and see how they are doing. Because we have a friendship, we don’t talk about deep stuff. We don’t talk about what struggles they might have on the streets because I already know those. It’s more of just how they are doing on a daily basis,” Mustin said. “If I meet someone new for the first time, sometimes they’ll share what’s going on. Sometimes they’ll let me pray with them, and we can talk about deeper things. But sometimes it’s just to hang out and keep up with the people I do know.”
The impact team has had the opportunity to meet many homeless people, and several of them have kept in touch over the years. One example Mustin gives is Lewis, a man she met her freshman year.
“I love Lewis because we really do have a friendship. It’s not just the awkward ‘I’m trying to minister to’ kind of thing,” she said. “We took a picture together, our impact team and him, at the end of my freshman year. Every time he sees me, he tells me he looks at it every morning and remembers us.”
Mustin acknowledges the widespread needs located within the downtown Greenville area. She says everyone is on the streets for different reasons, and those reasons must be addressed.
“Some of them are addicts and need rehab. Some are from rough situations and can’t work. There are a lot of war veterans on the streets. Some have made a mistake and have a criminal record, so they can’t get a stable job to get off the streets. Some of them have mental disorders, and they can’t work, so they have no way of getting medication,” Mustin said.
As for Mustin, her experience ministering to the homeless has changed her view, both locally and globally.
“It has given me such awareness. I can’t go downtown and have fun and completely block out everything that is going on in the world around me. Even if it’s with friends, I see homeless people I know, or I see places where I know people are struggling. It’s very good to keep you grounded in what reality is. When you’re involved in something like this, you can’t pretend that there isn’t pain in the world, and you can’t pretend that you don’t have a part in causing it or a potential in helping it.”
Many other impact teams serve in other capacities throughout the week. Seven weekend teams travel to churches and assist in their ministries. Community teams minister in local venues, which include Palmetto Boys Home, hospice, Pendleton Street Baptist Church, Good News Club at Tigerville Elementary, Augusta Heights Baptist Church, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Downtown Greenville, Tyger Baptist Church, Berea House, Buncombe Road Baptist Church, Centerquest, Spanish Team, Connection Fellowship Church and Nursing Home. - NGU