Mission Adelante began in 2005 as a house church in Kansas City, Kansas. Jarret Meek and his family had just returned from studying Spanish in Costa Rica and serving for two years as missionaries in another Latin American country. When the Meek family returned to the Kansas City area from their cultural immersion, they saw immigrants and refugees living among them; the presence of an unreached intercultural community quickly became known to them in their own back yard. The newly formed organization became known as Mission Adelante, which in Spanish means literally, “Mission Go Forth.”
I have known of Mission Adelante for most of their existence on South 18th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. They were once my neighbor as I lived in a retreat center nearby, and I passed their building while driving a UPS package car countless times. I delivered to them at a time or two, wishing that I could spend more of my time in their line of work. Why I did not take the time to become acquainted with them sooner is a story for a different day, however.
When I finally made contact with Mission Adelante staff, I set up a phone appointment with Megan McDermott scheduled for an afternoon in late October, 2016. I learned that Megan’s college major was in Music Education and Spanish, and that she has a masters in Music Therapy. Her first role with Mission Adelante was as a summer intern in 2008. Megan became full time staff in 2009, and now serves as the director of Latino Kids Ministries. When I begin to serve after the Christmas holiday for their Spring trimester, I will be assisting with the kids Bible programming that she oversees.
Megan explained over the phone in detail how the children’s programming of Mission Adelante serves their mission, which is “…to make disciples by serving, sharing life, and sharing Jesus with people from other places.” Thursday night “Kids Adelante” is an opportunity for kids to gain comfort with concepts of the Bible, prayer and personal devotions. By setting firm foundations in the Christian faith, their children’s programming offers them a place of friendship and safety while their parents attend English Language Learning (ELL) classes in the same building or in the converted house next door.
On Tuesday nights the focus is on the children of adult Bhutanese ELL students, while on Thursday nights the focus is on the children of adult Latino ELL parents. The focus on children is intentional, Megan explained. Mission Adelante believes that children are the future of the community, and that they take their newfound faith home to their parents. As a children’s pastor, I witnessed multiple examples of newly reached families whose first contact with the church came ultimately through their children. From an educator’s standpoint, the most developmentally moldable and influential members of the community are its children.
A third area of young community members reached by Mission Adelante are the youth between the ages of 8 to 13. Their branch, known as “Leaders in Training” (LIT) has the goal to create mentoring mentorships between adult mentors and youth mentees. The three foci of LIT address this goal by 1) creating leaders for the community by bringing the youth to Adelante Thrift to volunteer. Secondly, LIT youth receive 2) time for tutoring, and by providing a comforting place to call home, LIT embraces their 3) third culture identity–that is, they can be displaced by parents who grew up in a different country than they did, while, still feeling culturally different than their peers in school.
Adelante Kids and LIT both promote an environment where children and youth can be comfortable as bicultural individuals within a multicultural group identity. Relationality is important across the program to the point that volunteer leaders advance with the same group of students through the grades in all programming for children and youth. That means long term commitment is encouraged, and the children benefit from having a safe and stable place where they can be known and accepted unconditionally, just as they are. Jesus was known to accept people just as they were, and Mission Adelante is committed to doing the same.
Mission Adelante has grown its scope beyond their 18th Street mission, however. Several years ago, the vision of Jarret Meek and his team grew beyond the scope of who they would welcome into their educational facility. With the statement that “our goal is community impact,” the Adelante team, began a community development plan, with the first step to create a sense community on an almost-empty street corner strip mall on 38th Street and State Avenue. When Adelante Thrift first opened, only a Subway restaurant and a hair care and wig store were present, and a couple of other small businesses were present. The marketplace ministry model of Adelante Thrift gave a boost to this corner which encouraged several new stores to open up in the adjacent suites.
To help with the progress toward the objective of connecting with community people for the goal of community impact, Mission Adelante created a community development position, which is now held by Elena Mamadnazarova. I interviewed Elena, with whom I have had the opportunity to be acquainted for several years. With focus on the thrift store, Elena oversees the community connections of Mission Adelante and development of people within Mission Adelante. I asked Elena questions about her responsibilities, duties and experiences, including her daily routine. Next, I inquired on her impact of children and youth, before strengths and challenges of her position with Mission Adelante. Other questions included how her education and prior skills equip her for the position.
Elena’s responsibilities for developing people and making connections between Adelante Thrift and the community includes self-development. That is, shortly before we sat down to speak about her role in Mission Adelante, she had discussed the evening coaching sessions that she was observing at a different organization. Mission Adelante was been interested in learning from and duplicating adult skills coaching in Kansas City, Kansas. These adult education classes are in partial fulfillment of the goal of Mission Adelante to continue developing their community by addressing their neighbors’ needs for life skills and employment coaching. Soon, Adelante Thrift will be joined by business coaching classes. Further along the horizon is a vision for a medical clinic.
Elena serves at the chair of the board of Adelante Thrift, along with a man who attends Christ Community Church-a multicampus community of people interested in being more than merely spectators of Sunday services. Christ Community has campuses in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri, and in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, and in Leawood, Kansas. Having met a married couple from Christ Community during on of the observation nights of Mission Adelante’s Bhutanese night, along with the volunteer days sponsored by their congregations, their interest in giving to the community has done more than provide Mission Adelante with a strong base of support from the Christian community, but, it has provided opportunities for ministry. Most notably, Elena learned about the community development position that she currently holds through her participation in her church’s volunteerism in Mission Adelante. Besides her role as the chair of Adelante Thrift, Elena’s daily routine includes overseeing the growth and tasks of the top staff, including the participation of the Leaders in Training as volunteers within the thrift store.
Strengths of the community development role of Mission Adelante are extensive. First, Mission Adelante and Adelante Thrift celebrate and embrace variety of culture. Evidence of this can be seen in the Bhutanese-speakers, Spanish-speakers, English-speakers, etc, who are the most common people in the mission and the thrift store. Most of these groups can be broken down into subgroups by nationality, skills, abilities, etc. The mission focuses well on the ask of knowing people within these groups in a personal way–that is by their first name, their strengths, and their areas of growth. Furthermore, Elena admits that knowing people this personally is messy (a common component of ministry), which makes the task of intentionality even more important in relationship building.
A challenge for Elena with the community development responsibilities is finding a financial balance with the services. Much more goes into sustainably running a business for mission. Contrary to first impressions, the operations of Adelante Thrift have relied on donations for the first year and a half of its existence. Even though the thrift store exists for the goal of people and community building rather than merely for profit, the long term goal is to create a profitable business to contribute to the operations funding of Mission Adelante.
Elena’s skills and education include an M.A. in International Development and cultural sensitive ways to use her natural need to expend her energy toward a goal. The community development role in Mission Adelante serves a purpose for her as she remains driven to contribute to the development of the urban international community.
I also interviewed Antoine, who is the manager of Adelante Thrift. While I asked many of the same questions as I asked Elena, I became compelled by how his vocational experience and family life influenced his entrance into the Mission Adelante community and essentially into his role as head manager for Adelante Thrift.
Fifteen years ago, Antoine’s wife explained that she desired to find a place to worship in Spanish, which was her language comfort. Both are bilingual, yet, prefer different languages in the context of congregational worship. Therefore, Antoine took interest when he heard through a friend of a new church which met in English as a house gathering with regular Spanish services. They joined Mission Adelante as people interested in worshipping as a multicultural family. I knew several multicultural families when I attended the Primera Iglesia Hispana del Nazareno (First Spanish Church of the Nazarene) in Kansas City, Kansas between 2007 and 2012. Therefore, I have sympathy for people who speak English as their secondary language–sometimes, it is life-giving to rest in one’s language of youth from time to time.
After Antoine and his wife became more involved in the Mission Adelante church gatherings, he was approached by the mission as they were beginning plans to open the thrift store. Once he applied for the position as manager of Adelante Thrift, he brought with him 20 years experience as a McDonald’s manager. Yet, Antoine was on a learning curve as he had to adapt restaurant management expertise to the retail management context. With a learner mentality, he has, and still is, adjusting to the demands of running a thrift store. With the help of a connection made by Elena, the head of community development for Mission Adelante, Antoine was given the opportunity to learn from someone who had successfully started and managed two thrift stores in Wichita.
One of the most definitive characteristics of Adelante Thrift is the function as “business for mission,” according to Antoine. The “business for mission” model is distinctive from business as mission (Eleos Ministries / Eleos Coffee is an example of business as mission) in the effect that it has the goal to generate a profit for the purpose of funding its parent mission organization. Similar models in the Kansas City area include the relationship between City Thrift and City Union Mission with the exception that Adelante Thrift staff take the opportunity to befriend and share life with their customers. This cannot be said of City Thrift and City Union Mission. Perhaps, Adelante has benefited from their intercultural emphasis and missionary focus, which provides the mentality that all of the space in which one lives and works is a vital place where God desires to work in the lives of people.
Concluding, Mission Adelante and Adelante Thrift are focused on the task of building community and generating lifelong relationships in all places of life. Perhaps the best strength of Mission Adelante is the mindset of the missionary, who seeks to make room for Christ in creative ways that are relevant to the surrounding cultural and geographic landscape.
I look forward to my future interaction with them in the future, as I follow God’s guidance in my vocational calling. As a person who experienced the call to be a missionary as a young child, I have never quenched the desire to be part of an international community as a pioneer to a vision that is seen in full only by the Creator, the One who calls and empowers is disciples to go forth and make disciples of the the nations. If there is anything that I have in common with Mission Adelante, or Mission “Go Forth,” it is to be Christ in ways that are specific to the needs of the people to whom they have been called.