Tiffany Brown, new director of the REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School, says this year's eight students are learning about Bible work, urban ministry, public speaking, cooking and more. But the school is not designed to launch them into any specific job; rather the aim is to train the students to be ambassadors for Christ in whatever career they choose.
Question: REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School in Philadelphia completed its first year of teaching students last year under Director Tara VinCross. How did the year go? How many students did you have?
Answer: The year was successful! There were multiple amazing teachers who came and taught at the school. The students really grew and deepened their walk with Jesus Christ — so much so that many of them engaged in ministry right after graduation or shortly after the program ended.
REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School (REACH CU) had 13 students last year. Since it was the school’s first year, there were challenges, triumphs, and many valuable lessons learned. Right now we have eight amazing students.
You have been named as the new director after Tara VinCross's departure to California. How do you feel about your new job?
I think the school is pretty amazing, honestly. I am blessed to be a part of this ministry. We have an amazing cohort of students and a hard-working, dedicated and committed staff, and for that I am grateful. It’s exciting that I get a chance to use my passion for evangelism, my training in teaching, my background in literature evangelism, and my personality that enjoys working with youth and young people.
Of course, there are new challenges with this role, and I look forward to learning new things in the journey.
How is REACH different than any other evangelism schools? Do you have a relationship with any others?
REACH CU is pretty unique in that it is a one-year school, accredited through Washington Adventist University, and the students are not being trained for any specific job. The goal is to prepare them to be witnesses for Christ regardless of what they choose as a major. In fact, many students come here and discover what they want to do in college/university. They are seeking God’s will for their lives, and it’s exciting to see them become more grounded in their walk with Christ here and to find direction in their lives.
We don’t have a partnership with other evangelism schools, but we appreciate the friendship that is forming with SOULS West. Our schools have some similarities and differences, but I appreciate our unified effort in training young people to have a passion for God.
Are there other evangelism schools that are focused on urban evangelism the way that REACH is? Why do you feel urban evangelism is important?
I don’t know of other urban evangelism schools.
Urban evangelism is important because most people in the world live in or close to an urban setting. If we want to minister where the people are, it is important that we are intentional about reaching out to people in the city.
What are your goals for REACH this year? What longer-term goals do you have for the project?
We aim to engage with the students throughout the year and mentor them to reach their personal goals for growth. I also hope they gain further insight as to what their calling and direction is in their lives. I can already see that God is leading them!
We also plan to prepare the students for what they are doing after this school year. My goal is that they can easily transfer from REACH CU to a four-year Adventist college/university or that they can transfer to a community college and work as ministry interns with a church or ministry that interests them.
In the future, I would love to see the students not only get a chance to engage in urban evangelism here in the U.S. but to also experience urban evangelism and ministry in an international setting.
REACH is connected with a church plant in Philadelphia, the REACH church, where I believe you previously served as associate pastor. When I talked to Tara Vin Cross in late 2014, the church had 40 members. Has the church grown since then? What is it like? How has it changed? I believe you have a new church building? How does the synergy between the church and the school work?
The church, REACH Philadelphia (REACH) has about 46 members or so with a few additional regular attendees.
The church is a young adult church, and honestly, I feel like it’s an awesome church. It’s a church made up of people who are mostly young professionals in their 20s and 30s. Our church has experienced change in life stages. A lot of our members used to be single, in undergrad or graduate school, and have a lot of availability. We watched a lot of us grow through that and marry (each other, sometimes), have children, begin careers, move out of the area, move into the area, and experience life together. It’s been a pretty neat experience! We were extremely ambitious a few years ago trying to start multiple ministries, and now we make sure we can chew whatever we bite off.
Yes, we bought a building that was a burnt-out bar/night club in 2014. It had to be completely gutted, and it’s still being renovated. We look forward to having our grand opening next year (2017)!
The church and the school work really well together. Some of the personnel work in both entities, so that’s a blessing. Also, we are intentional about having times when the church and school members get together to do things that are simply social. That helps build relationships. The students also get involved in the worship service on Sabbaths and other ministries.
How did you come to the REACH church? Can you tell me a little bit about your background? And how you became a pastor?
I came to Philadelphia as a student at Eastern University to study for my Master's in International Development. As a student, I attended Chestnut Hill SDA Church, and that’s where I met Pastor Tara [VinCross] and many others. I attended the Friday night Bible study at Pastor Tara’s house as well. I needed to do an internship for my degree, and the university allowed me to intern at REACH. Thus, I interviewed and then worked as an intern pastor, beginning in 2011 at the start of REACH Philadelphia. I stayed in this role for three years.
After that, I transferred from being an intern pastor to a pastor of Community Development and Evangelism.
I’ve had a passion for mission work and seeking the lost since I was in academy. I’m grateful for the Lord’s leading in my life and that I get the chance to serve Him in this capacity.
I think I am probably safe in assuming that REACH is the only Adventist evangelism school that has had only women directors. Do you think you and Tara may have slightly different goals and focus for the school than a male director may have had? Do you think being a woman helps you in your job? Is there any area where you feel it is a hindrance?
I never thought of our gender as helping or hindering the school. I don’t think the goals of the school have anything to do with Pastor Tara’s gender or mine. I think our interest in seeing young people draw close to God and be mobilized as agents of restoration and hope have been the driving factor of our goals for the school.
Where have last year's cohort of students ended up? Are they still studying? Working in ministry?
Six of the REACH graduates are back in the Philadelphia area.
Will Remigio really felt supported and connected here at our REACH Philadelphia church, so he is serving as a volunteer for the school as our Assistant Chef. He also is an Intern Director for REACH Success, the tutoring program of REACH Philadelphia. He’s doing a fantastic job. We’re so lucky to have him. He plans to continue his education at Temple University in January. This summer he also served as a canvassing leader and cook for the summer literature evangelism program, Pennsylvania Youth Challenge.
Jeneva Godoy is a ministry intern of REACH Philadelphia, and she serves as the Children’s Ministry intern. She also is the Office Assistant for REACH Success. She is still well connected to the fabric of REACH.
Kiersten Reed came to visit us for Thanksgiving break, and she landed a job here in Philadelphia. Therefore, she’s working in Philly and attending church at REACH now. She felt connected and emotionally supported as a student here, so she really wanted to return to REACH Philadelphia.
Josh Garcia worked in Pennsylvania Youth Challenge (Youth Challenge/PYC/YC) this past summer, and he volunteers his time at the school. Before he did REACH CU, he was a member at REACH Philadelphia, and now he is back in the area and still serving as a leader in the church.
Michael Tryonosky III attended a one-semester Bible college this summer and fall. He is from the outskirts of Philadelphia, and he is back home now, seeking employment.
Rafael Ortiz recently returned to the Philadelphia area with Michael. Rafael looks forward to becoming more involved with Youth Challenge this coming summer and learning from the school’s current chef skills that would equip him for that role.
As for the others:
Becca is working in NYC; Jeremiah is working in Maryland; Jose returned to his family business in NJ. Dennis Jefferson transferred to Oakwood University. Junior canvassed this summer, but now he works and is taking classes on the West Coast. Audreyanna is working for a firm in Washington, D.C. (She came to REACH CU as a college graduate), and Leland was a canvassing leader this summer, and now he is a teacher’s assistant (He came to REACH CU as a college graduate).
What types of jobs is REACH intended to prepare students for?
REACH CU is a one-year school designed to aid any student (regardless of major) to work in his/her field and be an ambassador for Christ wherever neede. The Adventist church needs more mission-minded people, regardless of what job or career they end up in. So it really doesn’t matter which job our graduates go to once leaving the school. The school is not designed to launch students into any specific job, such as Bible workers or pastors. Rather, with their certificate from the school, they will be equipped to identify a need in a community and begin a ministry, be lay leaders of their churches, and just be witnesses for Christ wherever life leads them.
That being said, the students receive training to work as literature evangelists, and some are trained to be leaders in a canvassing program. They also get a chance to practice starting a new (urban) ministry from scratch. They also get to learn a bit about Bible work, public evangelism, cooking, and many other things. But as I said, they are trained to be effective in any ministry and to have a good spiritual foundation for whatever career they choose.
Can you tell me a little bit about this year’s students?
We have eight amazing students, six of whom are from the Columbia Union, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. We also have a student from California and one from Indiana. Two are women, and six are men.
This year’s students range in age from 18 to 26. Three have come straight out of high school, and the others are in their 20s. One of our students is a college graduate who graduated in May. Some have completed some college courses and were working before coming to REACH.
What is an average day like for a student at the REACH school?
A team prepares a 9 a.m. breakfast every morning. The students then travel to REACH Philadelphia church (a storefront location).
Worship begins at 10:30 a.m. with songs of praise, prayer, and a devotional. Then students attend class until 2:30 p.m. with short breaks.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, some of the students tutor a child in reading or math for one hour.
Sometimes the students go on a field trip in the afternoon to visit a church/urban ministry.
In the evening, they focus on completing their homework assignments and doing their chores.
How has the curriculum for REACH been developed, and who developed it?
Students can earn 15 credits toward their degree through a partnership with Washington Adventist University. The classes are the foundation around what the students learn:
- Biblical Spirituality
- Knowing and Sharing Christ
- Jesus and the Gospels
- The Theory and Practice of Urban Ministry
- Mission to the Cities
Pastor Tara worked on the curriculum before the first year began. Other classes are included that prepare and equip the students for ministries life. The classes are delivered in an intensive manner, meaning the students learn from the same teacher.
Where do you see yourself in five years' time? Where do you see REACH evangelism school?
I see myself still engaged in ministry and serving God. That can possibly be in the REACH CU school or in another context. It depends on how the Lord leads. I still have a passion for international work, so I would like to see that become a part of my ministry.
I see the evangelism school thriving with young adults, coming to deepen their relationship with God and finding their direction and calling in life. I also see more young people becoming actively engaged and empowered to be agents in ministry as a result of attending this school. It’s exciting to see last year’s cohort ready to engage in ministry as a result of all they learned from their year at REACH CU.
Right now, the students are coming either before they enter a four-year college, after they have graduated from college, or after leaving a job.
In the future, I see students taking a “gap year” from WAU, Andrews, or other Adventist universities (similar to the way they might go study abroad for a year or take a year to work as a student missionary) to attend REACH CU and engage and learn in urban evangelism.
I hope that we help young people find easy ways to enter into ministry and be ambassadors for Christ wherever they are.
Read Tara VinCross's interview with Spectrum when the REACH school opened in 2014.
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