By: Katie Sobiech
Have you ever noticed that being around certain people changes you? This will be your experience after spending time with Duane Crabbs, the founder of South Street Ministries, and the rest of the guys in the ministry. Being in their presence changes you.
Crabbs is a man with a great sense of humor, who’s extremely passionate about what he does. His home, hidden away up on a hill is no secret to the community. Both kids and adults come to hang out and have Bible Study.
It’s not often that you meet an individual who chooses to live among the poor; especially in a neighborhood so dangerous that it’s been referred to as “Vietnam”. But that’s what Crabbs did. Nine years ago he left the comforts of his safe neighborhood and $50,000 a year job as a fireman and moved his wife and four children to the inner city. Friends and family thought he was crazy, but he says, “There are certain things that if we’re to do it, we alone are the only ones who could have the conviction.”
Crabbs felt called to the inner city even before the big move, but there was one event that made him realize that if he was really going to make a difference he had to live among the people. “We can’t just say ‘God loves you’ and then live a life that allows us to escape into our own privilege. We want to be the body of Jesus in the neighborhood. Kids need role models and they need to see demonstration,” he explained.
One little boy, Scottie, opened his eyes to this. When Crabbs used to commute to church in the inner city he would always see this young boy. Eventually Crabbs kind of “adopted” Scottie and they would sit together at church every week. Crabbs’ wife Lisa hadn’t been attending due to a difficult pregnancy, but after their daughter Hannah was born she started coming again. The first Sunday she came, Scottie leaned over, elbowed Crabbs and asked ‘Is that your old lady?”
“Well I don’t think she’d like to be called that Scottie, she’s my wife,” Crabbs said.
“What’s a wife?” Scottie asked.
Laughing, Crabbs said “Cut it out Scottie!”
Scottie wasn’t kidding. He really didn’t know what a wife was.
It was at that moment that Crabbs realized God was calling him to the inner city. “If a kid has no positive experiences in life with family and stability, where is he going to hang scriptural truth?”
Although the preacher preached a great message that day, Crabbs realized that to Scottie it was just like the voice on Charlie Brown. “It was like ‘wa wa wa wa wa wa wa,’” he said.
Living among the People
Eighty percent of the kids in the neighborhood are growing up without a father, ninety percent are below grade level in their reading, and drugs and alcohol dictate most of their experiences every single night. “And then we just want to come in and say ‘Praise the Lord, Jesus loves you’? That’s not a threat to the kingdom of darkness,” Crabbs said.
In order to bring change Crabbs realized he needed to live among the people. “It’s not enough if we just have orthodox truth but we’re not bodily in the mix, and that’s what Jesus did – he left the comforts of heaven,” Crabbs explained.
Faith for Finances
After making the decision to quit his job, Crabbs held onto the promise found in Matthew 6:33 which says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you.”
His wife, understandably, had questions and concerns, but they made a commitment to not tell anyone their needs and to not use credit cards. The newspaper ended up getting hold of their story and told some people who started to ask questions and this alone blessed the ministry.
What They Do
There are many different aspects of the ministry, but the main focus is Christian Community Development. Crabbs preaches at the Summit Lake Community Center, ministers at the Summit County Jail, and at a local bar.
His church congregation is made up of a diverse mix of people. “There are people who have, and people who have not, there is black, there is white, educated, and uneducated,” Melvin Fields, a member of the church, said.
Fields works at Haven of Rest Ministries, a ministry for the homeless. Once homeless himself, he explained, “I was part of the bad element in this community at one time and so when I finally surrendered my life to Jesus Christ I made a decision that I wanted to give back to the community that I took from.”
Crabbs also reaches out to the youth through their tutoring program, the bike shop, and Sunday school. The kids are welcome to hang out at their house where they have basketball hoops, a playground, and lots of space to run around
Among the many opportunities they have for kids is the bike shop. When the garage door opens you see a splash of colors. Wheels hang from the ceiling – bikes are piled on top of each other. It is designed so that each child can put together his or her own bike.
Jim Shaffer, a volunteer at the bike shop who lives a couple blocks away said, “It’s sad to see a kid without a bike. I think every kid should have a bike, and seeing a smile on the kids faces when they get one is really gratifying.”
The kids didn’t always have to put together their bikes, but Crabbs realized that giving the bikes away for free didn’t work. “One kid took his free bike, sold it for $10 and came back the next day for another one,” Crabbs explained.
So now they have to work for their bikes. “They need to realize that their effort has value,” Crabbs explained.
After spending 8-10 hours on a bike they can take it. “We don’t want to just say ‘Here’s a bike, get lost,” Shaffer said.
One of their new ministries, “Street Seminary”, works with men one on one. Early in the morning the men break off into groups of two and walk the streets, praying with anyone who is open to it.
C.J. Moore, who recently quit his full time job to commit himself to the ministry explained, “This isn’t just a bunch of talk. Churches around here don’t have a connection with the inner city people and that’s not what the gospel is about. Jesus himself went into the vineyards and hedges – that means the bars.”
Sadly, not one of the fourteen churches in area reaches out to the community. “While there’s a lot of activity in the church, very little of it intersects with the neighborhood,” Crabbs said.
Throughout the years, neighbors and members of the community have come alongside Crabbs and his family to help. David Hale is one of those men. Hale has lived in the neighborhood for years, even when the rest of his family chose to leave, he knew he was called to stay. “David’s been salt and light in this community. He walks and prays everyday,” Crabbs said.
“I chose to live here,” Hale said, “because we ought to make a difference.”
Hale and his wife take care of two handicap adults, and two adopted children. Tearing up at one point he said that a lot of kids tell him, “Daddy doesn’t live at home anymore, he’s in jail.”
“And momma has too much to do,” Hale explained, “so the television is their babysitter, and it teaches them a lot of junk. Very seldom can the kids even catch the bus in the morning because they can’t get up by themselves.”
Hank Richards, Chairman of the Board of Kingdom Builders, a ministry for men, has also come alongside this vision of reaching out to individuals in the community. His passion is bringing the Body of Christ together, and doing together what we cannot do alone.
Though they live among some of the most hopeless circumstances, they don’t lose hope. Fulfilling the call of God on their lives keeps them going. “There’s been both heartache and blessing, but I don’t have any regrets,” Crabbs said.