By Jennifer Johnson
For more than 125 years, the house at 516 N. Wall Ave. in Joplin, MO, has reached local residents for Christ—as a private home, as the first campus of Ozark Christian College, and later as the home of North Joplin Christian Church. Today, this historic building continues to facilitate ministry as the Neighborhood Life House, a nonprofit organization that builds relationships with community members and shares the love of Jesus through a variety of programs for children and families.
“A group of us at College Heights Christian Church had been working with a ministry to an apartment complex on the south side of town,” says Katie Hargrove. “We’d always dreamed of having a building of our own with more space where we could have a long-term presence in an area.”
The outreach minister at College Heights discovered the North Joplin church had closed and placed the building for sale, and while he was praying on the steps of the building, a member of the former church drove by and asked if he was interested in the property.
“We thought, Maybe God is doing something!” says Hargrove. “The process moved quickly, and in 2009 we incorporated, set up a board, and moved into the building.” Today Hargrove serves as the director of Neighborhood Life House, coordinating a range of programs designed to “put life back into the community.”
“This is a high-poverty, high-crisis area,” she says. “We want to be a stable place that provides extra support to these families.” This support includes a karate club; an after-school program with lessons, games, art, and service activities; a weekly “Creative Kids” gathering that connects children with local artists and encourages their creativity; a reading club; and even a free play day when kids can simply enjoy themselves in a safe, fun environment. Every activity includes a very low ratio of students to adults so that each child can experience personal attention, enjoy conversations, and build relationships with volunteers.
“We also offer special events like trick-or-treating at Halloween, a Christmas candlelight service, father/son and mother/daughter events, and a parents’ night out—we keep the kids so mom and dad can go on a date,” Hargrove says.
Although the programming meets practical needs, everything is done as a way to share God’s love.
“As we create our programs, we want people to know who Jesus is,” she says. “But Jesus also cared for physical and emotional needs. We want to create neighborhoods that thrive because people who love Jesus are there, pointing to him.” Some local residents have caught the vision themselves, volunteering at the Life House or opening their homes, and a few others have moved into the neighborhood as missionaries.
“There are so many stories from neighbors about growing up here next to Ozark or the church and finding a connection to Christ because of the ministry that happened in this building,” Hargrove says. “This is the next chapter in that story.”