Grace College Akron, a church ministry training program, has its share of interesting stories. Sometimes the path to full-time ministry isn’t what you would expect. And Ashleigh Hughes, sophomore biblical studies major at Grace College Akron, is no exception. She’s passionate about helping the hurting and less fortunate — a fervor that took root at an early age.
A Young Rebel with a Cause
From a young age, Hughes could be deemed “a rebel.” In fourth grade, Hughes would skip school once a month on Wednesdays. But she wasn’t sneaking off to hang with friends or bailing out on her weekly exams like one might think. She was leaving school to help her grandmother at a soup kitchen at their church. Hughes skipped school weekly to volunteer for years, spanning through the time she reached middle school.
Perhaps Hughes’ grandmother knew that a soup kitchen was a prime setting for ministry training. Perhaps she knew that rebelling to serve others was the best way to rebel. And perhaps she looks at where Hughes is today, thinks back to their Wednesdays in the soup kitchen, and smiles.
Volunteering became a normal rhythm in Hughes’ life.
She regularly volunteered at The Haven of Rest shelter in Akron her freshman year, and the following summer, Hughes went on a ministry training trip with Grace Church Akron to work with the inner-city missions organization, Urban Hope in Philadelphia.
During that trip, the group took turns approaching someone on the streets. And the night came when it was Hughes’ night to step forward. As Hughes walked the streets, she began praying for an opportunity to share the gospel. Just then, the group was told to stop. Someone was pursuing them from behind and wanted to talk.
Hughes uttered a prayer, “Give me your words, God.”
As she approached the man, she asked, “How are you doing today?” And that one simple question was all it took. Immediately, the man teared up as if he couldn’t remember the last time someone asked about his well-being. His name was Luke. He wasted no time sharing his story of homelessness with her. His girlfriend of ten years had recently died of an overdose. His family said he was a worthless junky and didn’t want anything to do with him. His life was lived on the streets and he felt hopeless. That night, God answered Hughes’ prayer. He led her speech to give Luke the hope he needed.
This interaction in Philadelphia — the city of brotherly love — led to her return the following year. On that visit, the group stopped at a tent city. This was mind-blowing to Hughes. Although she had been to soup kitchens and shelters her whole life, she didn’t know there was such a thing as entire communities of people living in tents on the street. Hughes was processing this sad reality on the trip home with a leader, when the leader informed her that tent cities were closer to home than she realized — in fact, there was one in Akron, Ohio.
Needless to say, it didn’t take her long to find Second Chance Village online — a nearby organization committed to building relationships with people, figuring out why they are on the street, and shepherding them through the process of finding what they need.
A Different Kind of Homeless Ministry
Hughes set up a phone call with Sage Lewis, the organization’s executive director. On the call, Sage told Hughes the story of how the village came to be. “One day a homeless man asked if he could pitch a tent behind my office building,” Sage said. “This man explained to me that he had been evicted from his previous campground. I understood his situation, and I felt compassion for him. So I agreed,” he explained. Sage went on to say that this encounter caused the wheels to turn in his head, and he began the process of becoming a 501c3 non-profit.
After hearing the grassroots story behind the organization, there was no doubt that this was where Hughes was supposed to continue her church ministry training. Hughes began volunteering at Second Chance Village. And not long after that, a door opened for her to work there full-time as the Community Outreach Director. She hasn’t looked back since.
Hughes’ responsibilities include overseeing two transitional housing properties, event planning for the community, communication to volunteers, and distribution of food and necessities to the homeless. She also holds a seat on the Board of Directors.
“The reason why I love working there so much is that it’s about building community and being in people’s lives,” Hughes said, “It’s not just handing out food, it’s intersecting with their lives. I want them to know not only that I care for them, but that God loves them too,” she explained.
Maximizing the Experience
Hughes’ time at Second Chance Village is counting for more than just personal ministry training — it’s counting for credit toward her ministry degree in biblical studies through Grace Akron. When she discovered she could maximize her time at Second Chance Village to advance her education, the application was a no-brainer.
“Going to Grace College Akron is teaching me to know God’s love better and more intimately so I can give that love to God’s people.”
Hughes has three more years in the program. Afterwards, she wants to pursue her master’s degree in clinical psychology and work towards developing a ministry with a holistic approach to homelessness to address the trauma and mental health needs of the community she loves. – from grace.edu