“We believe our kids are going to change the world. They’re tough. They’re adaptable. They aren’t scared.”
His words sound a lot like a proud papa bragging on his kiddos.
Actually, Aaron Starr is Executive Director of Reaching the Nations International (RTNI), a Columbus-based urban outreach ministry.
The coronavirus crisis has shown that kids out of school need programs like RTNI now more than ever. In just the 9 days after school closings, RTNI served 56 students. This meant parents facing uncertain financial future knew their children would be provided with lunch sacs, dinner, and snack packs throughout the day.
Adjusting their operations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak has included increased virtual team sessions and suspending in person activities. Before the coronavirus outbreak, there were also plans to launch immigrant and refugee outreach into Northland and Abby Lane. It is uncertain whether these plans can still be scheduled to begin in September.
Founder Aaron and Emily Starr were well-prepared for this mission field. They first met on a missionary outreach to Venezuela where they engaged in “street ministry,” interacting with struggling populations on street corners, parks, and schoolgrounds. They had no idea this would be the beginning of a power-couple on a mission.
RTNI was founded in 2007 as a Columbus-focused effort to serve struggling populations in Milo-Grogan, South Linden, and Trevitt. Aaron and Emily now live in Milo-Grogan alongside the neighborhood communities they serve.
“We are loving kids, learning from neighbors, and pointing people to Christ. We believe they will go wherever He calls, whether that’s spreading the Gospel to their next-door-neighbor or around the world.”
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, services to these communities included a weekly children’s Bible study, tutoring and mentoring, Leadership Academy, skills camps, internship programs to equip practitioners, seasonal Prayer Tent at the local corner store, and VBS-like summertime park outreaches.
“Our core differentiation is that we are not just a ‘services provider,’ though we will provide resources. We are here as a community-based discipleship ministry serving the whole person.”
In 2019 alone, RTNI had over 280 volunteers serve, logging more than 5000 hours. This means they were able to impact 217 individual students, and over 2000 drop-ins.
The drop-in ministry allows children to come take refuge from any storms or stressors they are facing at school or home, play basketball, and hang out with the RTNI team during daytime hours.
This is how some of RTNI’s best relationships are built—living the Gospel, making connections, and even making mistakes.
“We let them know God loves them no matter what—you don’t have to be perfect. That happens when we get to have conversations and engage the community together with these kids. We are about life on life, and developing relationships.”
What You Can Do
- Prayer. Click here to learn more about leading a prayer group or just staying in the loop about prayer needs at RTNI.
- Volunteering. Contact them here to discuss “your gifts and passions, and connect you to the right opportunity!” RTNI is always in need of brave souls willing to enter unfamiliar communities and go door to door to deliver food and prayer.
- Stay Connected. RTNI just launched an Instagram page and rebooted a Facebook page to increase communication during these times. Please follow them on Instagram at @rtnicolumbus and on Facebook at @reachtni.
- Donate. RTNI is always looking for businesses and individuals to partner and provide food or financial donations. Due to the Coronavirus, RTNI is shifting their annual fundraising banquet to a virtual platform. Click here to sponsor and attend the RTNI Annual Banquet.