Two years ago, professor Michael Bruner gave his students an assignment: start a sustainable community project. Now once a project, 8th Street Ministry has turned into a weekly gathering and is still fostering strong relationships between APU students and those in the Azusa Eighth Street area.
Bruner’s students continued the ministry even after the assignment had ended. Although the student leadership has switched hands due to scheduling conflicts, members have been able to consistently visit this community.
8th street holds a stretch of neighborhood apartments where the students have built relationships with the children and families of the community over the past two years. One to two hours on Friday afternoons are spent playing soccer, blowing bubbles, drawing with chalk, and walking through life with friends and families they have grown to love. Children’s ages range from four to nineteen years old.
Junior nursing major Emily Painter was one of the students who started the ministry and once the assignment was completed, she and a friend in the group project began to ask themselves if they were also done with what they had started.
“Professor Bruner pointed our eyes outward from our APU student community,” Painter said. “He challenged us to find a creative way to greater love the people of this community. We have been given a beautiful opportunity to do life together with the people of God, our literal neighbors, just outside our APU campus life.”
8th street ministry continues to meet on a consistent weekly basis, groups of four to twenty APU students walk to a nearby neighborhood, a minute from APU’s West campus soccer field, bordering Azusa Gardens.
“We as a group, go with the sole purpose to love our neighbors well, with the love and concern that our God has imparted on us to share,” Johnston said. “None of us perceive what we do as extraordinary. We laugh, play, ask the kids about their weeks, dreams, goals, family.”
Aside from the original group, other APU students are also taking time out of their Friday afternoons behind West Campus with the children and families there.
“Coming out here has been a great, consistent part of my time in college,” said junior liberal studies major Cassie Isaacson. “I have been able to see God’s faithfulness every week because each week is different. Sometimes there are a lot of students that come out to help, sometimes there aren’t.”
The time spent on Eighth Street playing with chalk, drawing, reading or playing football is no longer viewed as an obligation or an assignment. It is now seen as a time when students are able to be themselves with the kids and create a friendship.
“We don’t want them to feel like they are being studied or anything. They are our friends and we care about them and the time we spend with them. It is real relationships we have built with them,” Painter said.
APU students are not only building relationships but are seeing change.
“It is really good for us to be a part of our community and spend time with these kids who love us. We have also desired to build relationships with the kids and go through them to build relationships with their parents and families,” Isaacson said.
Some parents in the area are enjoying the relationships that are being built between their children and APU students.
“They put on events for the kids like baking them food. They have been really good examples to them, and our kids seem to be a lot happier,” said Christine Mohicks, a mother of three. Mohicks has known the APU students in the ministry for two years.
After the time spent in the community, the students feel comfortable there and the children have begun to let them be a part of their lives by sharing their triumphs and struggles.
“The joy, the unity, the energy on Fridays is truly a beautiful thing,” Johnston said. “The hope through all this is that people recognize and see that people are people, children are children, and great love can be shared anywhere, everywhere, through small and great things. That’s what 8th street is all about! God is moving in our community in so many ways. We are blessed and privileged to come across the work that He has already begun in this place.”