ATLANTA — When many wouldn’t, Angel and Jason Pittman believe—in their neighbors, in the community, and in what God can do. After years of living that message in Overtown, the poorest neighborhood in Miami, the local community is starting to believe, too.
The Pittmans serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Overtown through Touching Miami with Love (TML), a CBF-supported urban ministry operating since 1993. Drug trafficking, violence, failed programs, racial tension and single-parent families are just a few of the local challenges facing Overtown, but now residents are beginning to come together to talk about community change.
“It’s been great to see them start to take charge and be excited about themselves being part of the solution,” Jason said. “They can do things to help make things better. That’s very exciting to see them catching a vision to what God can do here.”
Appointed as CBF field personnel in 2002, the Pittmans followed their heart for urban ministry to inner-city Detroit, moving in 2005 to Miami, where Jason is the ministry’s executive director and Angel is the director of development.
After a year of building relationships, they restarted an after-school children’s program at TML with the goal of making education fun. Now, children who couldn’t even identify their country or state on a map can locate all U.S. states and even world continents.
“People in the community started seeing what a great program we were providing and came to us about partnerships,” Angel said. “We got a major grant that has allowed us to increase our hours and [number of] kids served. We’ve seen explosive growth.”
But the ministry doesn’t just help children. Programs are also offered for parents, and the Pittmans hope entire families will engage with TML and work toward community transformation.
“Our calling is to this neighborhood and to see it transformed into a picture of God’s kingdom here on earth—a community that’s safe where people can live and raise a family. One that offers hope, opportunity and resources,” said Jason, a graduate of Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, a CBF partner.
After 15 years of TML, positive signs abound. Youth are turning to Christ. There’s growing energy behind planting a neighborhood church. Residents are recognizing their own skills and starting to believe they can better the neighborhood. Angel and Jason see the change because they live in the community and are part of its daily life.
“We experience the same thing everyone else is experiencing. If we hear a gun battle at night, they’re hearing the same thing we hear,” Jason said. “Living here builds a trust and camaraderie that you can’t have if you don’t live here.”
“You cannot be the presence of Christ if you’re not willing to be present,” Angel said.
Through a ministry of short-term presence, CBF partner churches have become a vital part of the ministry. Many churches come each year to help lead summer camps, which impact children and youth and also help establish credibility in the community. After a 2005 hurricane, TML stored belongings for many families whose apartments were damaged and condemned. Many of these families didn’t know TML, but when a respected community leader yelled, “These are the people that love on our kids in the summer,” there was instantaneous trust.
“If we hadn’t had church groups coming in and loving on their kids, we never would have had that open door. Never,” Jason said. “Churches allow our impact to be so much greater.”
Carla Wynn Davis is communications assistant specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.