Cleveland, Ohio struggles with many of the same obstacles as larger American cities. Crime, unemployment, poverty, a general sense of hopelessness. Yet, none of the other cities were once named the Most Distressed City in America, like Cleveland was in a recent study. How does one respond to a report like that? By talking and praying, one person at a time.
That’s what Mark Ritzman has been doing since moving there from Pennsylvania last year. A pastor in Philadelphia for the last eleven years, Mark became part of the network of SEEDNet, (a church planting in Spiritually, Emotionally, Economically, Developmentally Oppressed areas) in September of 2014. Not long after, Mark felt God calling him back to his native Ohio; specifically the distressed streets of Cleveland. The move would find him closer to family, and a plus was his family’s love of big cities.
Mark and his wife, Candi, grew up in the Akron area, before diverging down different academic paths. Candi attended Grace College in Indiana, while Mark studied at Wheaton College just outside of Chicago. During his studies, Mark participated in a ministry that took place in Chicago’s juvenile hall, which was filled with rough and tough, mostly African American teens, who were only waiting to graduate to ‘big boy’ prison. Intimidation described Mark’s feelings pretty well. But he soon found the kids to be regular people — hungry for God’s Word. Mark saw their potential and first felt the tug toward inner city ministries.
“God has given me a compassion for those that others might look at and think they have nothing to offer.” Ritzman describes his mission. “I’m not one to overlook what they have for God and His kingdom.”
He refers to the words of 1 Corinthians 1:25 & 27: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength… But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
Mark is fulfilling this mission every Wednesday at noon, when he drives from his home on Cleveland’s west side, to Alexia Manor on the city’s east side. Alexia Manor is a mild form of assisted living for the elderly or those with slight physical handicaps. It is a crossing of cultures, a thirty-something white guy walking into a community of older residents, vastly African-American. But God is using this culture clash all the same.
Thus far, Mark has lead Bible studies with the residents and any individual prayer and talking that comes up in-between. And the residents are eager to talk, as well as learn about the gospel. Just as eager as Mark is to establish friendships with them. He finds it neat to be recognized as ‘Pastor’ at Alexia. It makes it easier to break the ice with folks and make his position known and also to get to know the residents first hand.
Mark and SEEDNet have been working to integrate themselves even farther into Alexia Manor. Recently, Mark has been working directly with the manor’s management to start up an official Bible study; food, fellowship, the whole nine biblical yards! Mark is very excited to get the proper permissions approved. It is one step closer in Mark’s mission to make disciples for Jesus. Pray for this mission to be seen through and for the future of those disciples.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.