The unexpected way God led me to street ministry

At NewSpring College, Cody Wright’s ideas about ministry were shaken to the core before he was heartbroken for the poor ...

By the time the people come through the doors of The LOT Project in Anderson, South Carolina, everything is surprisingly calm.

Cody Wright is smiling so broadly you can almost feel the warmth coming off his face. Having prayed with his small squad of volunteers and finished up their last few tasks as a team, they’re eager to welcome, hug, and visit with the city’s poor.

Hope is the name of the non-profit ministry’s twice-weekly program to feed and clothe, and hope is what they want to give.

“From the moment they walk through the door, it’s one friend after another,” Cody says. “We are incredibly relational. We are very open-minded and open-hearted about who and how we help.”

A Place Called Hope

One by one, the people in the line that wrapped around the renovated store one block off Main Street patiently find what they need.

Lining the brick-and-plaster walls on both sides of the historic building are racks of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothes. Tucked in one corner, behind a counter made of old doors, are the hygiene products and shoes. And in the center are aluminum tables with styrofoam containers with meals of sub sandwiches, chips, crackers, and bottled water. 

 Without NewSpring College, I wouldn’t have been able to hold on in the high capacity of street ministry.

At the front of the store, people are sitting down to eat at two rows of folding tables and talking to Cody and his volunteers. Some are regulars. Some drop by every few weeks. Others are just passing through. But all —  the hard-up, hungry, homeless, and unemployed — are family.

“Sometimes this ministry wrecks you,” Cody says, his smile missing for the moment. “There are days when I go home and weep. Being around people who are so helpless and not being able to do things you’d like to do has broken my heart.”

Cody’s People

You could call these Cody’s people — and he’d be the first to admit how unlikely it all is.

The 20-year-old NewSpring Leadership College graduate wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollister. He’s wearing a nose ring, a leather necklace, beaded fabric bracelets, khaki shorts, canvas Bangs, and an outlined sun tattoo peeks out of his cotton plaid shirt.

When you find what you love, and care about and view it the way God does, there is a joy and passion that is awesome.

Less than a year ago, he couldn't have imagined having this kind of love for the downtrodden and the forgotten. Street ministry to the “least of these” — the words that give The LOT Project its name — would have been the farthest thing from his mind.

“I didn’t know I could do this 15 minutes away from where I live,” Cody says. “When I started pouring out for the oppressed and the hungry and the poor, He allowed me to see them with His eyes. It was a huge way Jesus showed He loves me and showed me who He is as a Father.”

A College Epiphany

Cody had been ready to quit NewSpring’s two-year ministry leadership school just months before graduation in April 2016. He was miserable and bitter at God. 

The hands-on ministry partnership with Connections at NewSpring’s suburban Powdersville campus — a few miles from where he grew up — wasn’t what he’d imagined when he felt called to ministry in eighth grade.

“There were times I had to pick up stuff from the store, and I said, ‘This is ministry?’”

Cody was not in a good place. It was a time of darkness and big confusion. 

Your NewSpring College experience isn’t anybody else’s. It’s yours. God has something specific and beautiful for you.

Asked by the school’s leaders to take a couple of weeks break to seek God’s will, Cody found himself remembering a missions trip he’d taken to Uganda and the nightmarish scenes of partly-naked children huffing petroleum rags and brawling over small pieces of bread. He had felt heart-broken and burdened.

“I remember God saying, ‘These are my children, and I am their Father through people.’ I had a burden for street ministry in that moment.”

Within weeks, he’d switched his ministry partnership to The LOT Project, which has operated for seven years. Cody’s experience with street ministry completed the work that NewSpring started.

“He used NewSpring College as a means for me to believe what God said about me and that includes calling me into ministry,” Cody says. “Coming out of it, I just started to agree with Jesus about everything he said about me, and I found my identity right there.”

Heart Work

Cody says his personal story is exactly how the Leadership College is supposed to work in the lives of students, he says.

“I think being at NewSpring College and learning about God at that capacity and looking into yourself at that capacity, sets you up for God to bring things out of you and put new things into you. It puts you in a vulnerable place,” Cody says. “About 75 percent of that happens at NewSpring College is a heart thing rather than a head thing. One thing God will do with everybody is shake them at the core. It’s not an easy process.”

When he applied to the Leadership College, he’d thought about it is as a program, stamping out graduates with lots of Bible knowledge and a ticket into a church-staff. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

“It’s not one-size fits all,” Cody says about the College. “Your NewSpring College experience isn’t anybody else’s. It’s yours. God has something specific and beautiful for you, and don’t try to make it anything else because it’s perfect.”

A Learning Community, not a Program

What Cody discovered was the raw, messy power of learning, failing, and succeeding in community.

All the classes were organized around a group experience, including the final project, which involved creating an organizational plan for a non-profit ministry.

“There were 40 to 50 of us in the same rooms every day in the same classes doing the same stuff. You were forced to do life with people,” he says. “There was this feeling of anticipation and excitement of what God was about to do, and we watched it happen to each other, and it was really special.”

The NewSpring Leadership College staff know they’ve done their job when they see students molded for God in His time, Cody says. 

“No time spent at NewSpring College is wasted. No matter what you do after that. None of it is in vain. Any person I’ve talked to who has thought about NewSpring College, I say, ‘You’ve got to do it.’”

A Changed Perspective

As a full-time, self-supporting missionary for The LOT Project, he finds himself applying many of the ministry skills, leadership health principles, and character lessons he’d learned in class and during the ministry-partnership.

His communication classes have been invaluable in casting vision to his volunteers. His character formation classes have developed godly habits, like accountability, to endure in times of struggle. His time in Connections helped him learn how to create an inviting environment welcoming to all people.

It’s not a fun and easy ride to be equipped for ministry.

And he’s found a point for even the more mundane parts of his college experience, like, yes, even picking things up at the store, which he does, at least twice-weekly for The LOT Project.

“It’s not that I’m doing a different job. It’s my perspective that’s changed,” he says. “When you find what you love, and care about and view it the way God does, there is a joy and passion that is awesome.”

The opportunity at NewSpring Leadership College to let God shape his heart mattered most.

“It’s not a fun and easy ride to be equipped for ministry,” he says. “Without NewSpring College, I wouldn’t have been able to hold on in the high capacity of street ministry.”

Sharing your story is a simple and powerful way to tell people about Jesus.

Sharing your story is a simple and powerful way to tell people about Jesus. By talking about what Jesus has done for you, it’s like joining a conversation God is already having with them.