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Saturday, May 8, 2021

When in Detroit

There’s an old joke among people who live in Detroit that a gallon of gasoline is cheaper than a movie ticket. The idea is that you’d essentially buy the gasoline, light your house on fire and watch it burn. It’s cheaper to destroy everything you have and leave the city than to stay.

Twelve members of Ekklesia, a young-adult gathering through the church of Christ the King, will fly to Detroit June 11 through 18 to do mission work and witness the poverty affecting citizens. More specifically, they will be looking for issues of violence and poverty in Detroit that could be similarly affecting Bellingham.

Ekklesia, named after the Greek word for “assembly” or “the called out ones,” is a Christian group that started in 2010 in a basement, aka “the Den.” It began with a few friends getting together to sing and pray.  A year passed and more than 80 people were packed into the Den.  Eventually the group developed into the young-adult ministry it is today.

“Detroit does have the highest murder rate in the United States but the people there are genuinely loving people. It’s the hard circumstances that push people to the edge.”

Alumna Ashley Selvey

Ekklesia pastor, Garret Shelsta, has been going on mission trips similar to this one for 12 years. Shelsta said his mission for this trip is to find problems in Detroit he may not have noticed before in Bellingham, and see how prevalent those issues are.

Last year the group noticed an area of Detroit with a large amount of motels. They learned this area contained a high population of ex-prisoners and people who had recently gotten out of rehab. They live in these motels because they can’t afford a down payment on an apartment but as time goes on, the price to live in these motels ends up being much more expensive than an apartment, Shelsta said.

This spot, Shelsta said, reminded the mission group all too well of Samish Way.

“This is not just a problem that happens in another city but a problem that happens in ours,” Shelsta said.

The group will be teaming up with Center for Student Missions, which is an organization that plans out mission trips for young adults internationally. Students don’t know what kinds of work they’ll be doing until they arrive at their destination each day.

Alumna Ashley Selvey, who will be rejoining the trip this year, went to Detroit on last year’s mission trip and participated in community gardening, soup kitchens, food banks and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to hear the tough circumstances impacting the city.

“Because of my faith, we’re not called to stay in our nice, cushy areas. We’re called to go into the areas that aren’t safe and go and bring out peace through loving people,” Selvey said, “If something [bad] happens, so be it.”

“This is not just a problem that happens in another city but a problem that happens in ours.” 

Ekklesia pastor, Garret Shelsta


“Detroit does have the highest murder rate in the United States but the people there are genuinely loving people. It’s the hard circumstances that push people to the edge,” Selvey said.

One of Selvey’s fondest memories from last year was when she worked in a neighborhood garden called Earthworks with local members of the community, she said. The group transformed an old plot of land that once held an abandoned house into a community garden where locals could grow affordable fresh food.

“It was such a contrast from the images you see on TV of Detroit and the violence,” Selvey said.

Once the auto market began its spiraling downfall, many companies began outsourcing jobs overseas, leaving many Detroit workers jobless and impoverished. The major loss of jobs lead the city into its current state of poverty, gang violence and substance abuse.

Ekklesia member, Marcus Micheles had witnessed this same form of community in other ways.

Micheles read an article about a group called Grown Men on Bikes, a group that buys old bicycles, refurbishes them and donates them to different clubs or groups in Detroit. They also round up people in local neighborhoods to meet together for community barbecues.

While at a meeting in Detroit with other students on a similar mission, he noticed a group of men crowded around large studded bikes. He decided to check out what was going on. Sure enough, it was the Grown Men on Bikes.

“Everyone was freaking out,” Micheles said about realizing they had found GMOB’s work, “It was definitely one of the biggest highlights of that trip.”

Ekklesia goes on three mission trips every year. They are considering Rome, New York and Denver for next year’s trips.

Ekklesia members are currently fundraising for the Detroit mission trip on their website and all excess funds will be donated to Center for Student Missions. More information can be found at ekklesiabellingham.com.


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