As the next bus pulled up to Cross Church Springdale, youth with matching wrist bands spilled out of the doors and rushed into a large auditorium to join the hundreds of other kids that arrived before them.
Midweek, the newest CAUSE ministry sponsored by John Brown University, serves Marshallese youth in Springdale by providing a safe space once a week after school, and a church service and a meal on Wednesday evenings.
Ashley Burger, the founder of the CAUSE ministry, said, “My freshman year I heard about the Marshallese through a social documentary class. I got involved in Cross Church’s apartment ministry which was only fifty kids. We went and hung out with the kids and talked to them about Jesus.” Midweek reached out to Burger last semester to inform her of a similar program. “They told me they were doing a similar ministry to the apartment ministry but at Cross Church but with a lot more kids,” Burger said.
Director of Midweek Billy Baker said, “We didn’t know what to expect in the beginning. The first week there were 30-40 who showed up. From there it just started to grow like crazy. By the end of the first semester there was somewhere around 200 kids.”
Baker said they recently had 420 youths at a service as the program continues to grow.
Baker gives credit to God for the success of the Midweek. He said, “God knew that there was a people group that needed to be here. I really think God allowed us to be a part of this and he let it fall into our laps.”
While the program is open to any youth from middle school to high school, Baker estimated that over 80-90 percent of the students are Marshallese. This is due to the heavy population of Marshallese people in Springdale.
The Marshallese population in Springdale is a result of a deal the Marshal Islands made with the U.S. in 1946 to allow the country to test nuclear bombs on parts of the islands. Forty years later, the two countries agreed on a treaty called the Compact of Free Association which gave the islanders restriction-free travel in and out of the U.S. Today there are over 4,000 Marshallese people living in Springdale according to the 2010 Census.
As more students continue to come to Midweek, the adult-to-student ratio continues to grow farther apart. Baker said, “We had plenty of volunteers to start, but they out grew us. We have about 40-50 adults on any given night, but we’d like to be at 60-70 because a lot of times with the amount of adults we have right now it’s like controlling the crowd verses building relationships and getting to know the kids.”
Burger want to help Midweek by bringing other JBU students to volunteer with the ministry.
JBU student China Armstrong was recently recruited by Burger to help serve for this first time. Armstrong said “JBU students should serve at Midweek because it will get them out of a place where they mainly see people who look like them every day. It’s a good way to experience a new culture, serve the Lord and affect a child’s life.”
If students want to get involved they can email Burger at BurgerAM@jbu.ed. According to Burger, “We’re going to go every Wednesday night and meet in the Walker dorm lobby.”
Burger requests students email her ahead of time if they plan on coming so she can provide adequate transportation.