Topeka Asbury Mount Olive UMC has had strong connections with Topeka Justice Unity & Ministry Project, or JUMP, for as long as the Rev. Harry Christian has been pastor at the church.
“Asbury Mount Olive has always been involved in social justice,” said Christian, who began as pastor of the Topeka church in 2013. “They’ve always been involved with seeing how they can improve our community. I don’t think there’s a day in our lives when we don’t think about justice.”
His predecessor, the Rev. Kathy Williams, was “one of the leading members to organize JUMP,” Christian said.
“When I got here, I was just filling the shoes that she already had started,” he said of Williams, now leadership development coordinator for the Great Plains Conference.
Christian is co-chair of Topeka JUMP this year with Anton Ahrens.
“Harry has been instrumental in keeping that church’s focus on doing justice and engaging people within his congregation,” Ahrens said. “They’ve been a really, really great leader in JUMP with the church and Harry as an individual.”
Founded in 2012, Topeka JUMP is part of the Direct Action and Research Training Center, or DART. DART is a partner with the Great Plains Conference to increase justice ministries in Douglas, Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas. Plans have begun to implement DART missions in Lincoln and Norfolk,the Rev. Sarah Marsh, mercy and justice coordinator for the conference, said.
Topeka JUMP has identified four main issues in the Topeka area: mental health, affordable housing, predatory lending and reducing violence.
JoAnne Smith, a member of Asbury Mount Olive who is active in JUMP, says the group is scheduled to meet with new Topeka Mayor Mike Padilla this month to discuss a housing trust fund.
Christian agrees that a fund is needed.
“If it’s done right, it won’t solve the problem overnight,” he said. “But through the years, if we get enough money in the housing fund, it’ll develop new housing and fix the houses that are run down and abandoned, and it’ll have the money for landowners, apartment owners, to reinvest.”
Gun violence, Christian said, is a problem in Topeka as much as it is in other cities nationwide.
“We have way too many deaths, way too many shootings in our community,” he said. “There is an initiative in the city to combat that that has been proven to cut out gun violence.
“Hopefully we can get young people all throughout the city to reexamine what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, so hopefully we can stop it all together,” Christian added.
Christian sees the mental health, housing and violence components as being connected.
“People who are unstable make bad choices, bad decisions, even to the point where health is involved,” he said. “That’s the cycle we’re trying to combat.”
Topeka JUMP, Christian said, is working with the district attorney’s office, Valeo Behavioral Health Care and Topeka hospitals to try and better the mental health of the community.
Another issue that central Topeka faces, which is a concern to Asbury Mount Olive but not on the list for JUMP, is a neighborhood grocery store in what Christian calls the “food desert” around the church. The nearest supermarket to the church, he said, is more than 2 miles away, and buses will not let riders haul more than a few bags.
“You can’t take something like that out of a community, because if they take it out people are left without, and they have to come up with other means of survival, which increases problems throughout our community,” he said.
Smith said she’s proud of the relationship Asbury Mount Olive has had with JUMP.
“There’s power in numbers, and the more voices you have the more chance you get listened to,” she said. “It impacts us, so we should be part of the solution and not just talk about the problem.”
“We have more power, more influence, because we can take not just Asbury Mount Olive church family, but 32 congregations in JUMP,” he said. “We say, this is something not just Asbury needs to work on but that the community needs to work on.”
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