Base Camp Guides Vulnerable Grand Rapids’ Urban Children with God’s Love, Relevant Lessons

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

basecamp1Caitlin Jackson (left) said it’s important for volunteers to be consistent in their attendance.Ty Davis doesn't have to think twice where his life would be today had it not crossed paths with the urban ministry, Base Camp, when he was 14 years old.

The 35-year-old Grand Rapids resident is certain he would not be looking forward to celebrating 10 years of marriage in October with his wife, Juanita. His sons, Tyler, 7, and Justin, 5, would not be students at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary, and his family would not be attending One Church Empowerment Center church in Grandville.

He never would have graduated in 2012 from Grand Valley State University with a major in criminal justice and he undoubtedly would not be a deputy clerk for the 61st District Court in its compliance division.

Standing firm

Instead, the tough love of Base Camp's director, Kelly Ellis, and her cadre of volunteers changed the course of his life, Davis said. He is sure the inner city's snare of selling drugs, joining a gang and serving time in prison would have checkered his life.

basecamp2Buchanan Elementary third-grader Jenie Velasquez said her life without Base Camp would be boring. “It’s fun,” she said. “We learn a lot about God.”But the Base Camp ministry refused to allow the children in their charge to fall prey to gang violence, prostitution, drug dealers and poor parenting.

"If it wasn't for Base Camp, I probably would have been selling drugs and would been in and out of prison because that was the life being portrayed in my neighborhood: the fast money and what you need to do to get it," Davis said.

"Base Camp kept me out of trouble. I have a cousin who didn't come (to Base Camp) and he went down the wrong path and has been in and out of jail. I stayed on the straight and narrow and have God in my life."

Base Camp falls under the ministerial umbrella of Sabaoth Ministries, whose executive director is Mike Peters. Besides Base Camp, Sabaoth includes 4Fire Ministries, an outreach program to Native Americans.

Base Camp's name is a metaphorical allusion to the equipment and supplies a mountain climber needs at base camp to sustain himself while climbing upward. The same goes for urban kids who making an uphill struggle in life.

Ellis has been Base Camp's sole director since its inception 23 years ago. In that span of time, the ministry has met in several buildings in the Southwest area of Grand Rapids but now it meets at Solomon's Porch Church in Jenison.

Even so, Ellis said she still considers Base Camp an urban ministry primarily for children ages 8-14 years old who live in the Burton Heights neighborhood and Hall Street and Grandville Avenue area of Grand Rapids.

Most of Base Camp's children are Latino.

"It's not a Latino ministry by design, it just happens to be the demographic of our community," Ellis said.

Base Camp is a year-round program that addresses students' educational (tutoring), physical and spiritual needs through Bible studies and worship. Biblical instruction often is fastened with object lessons that keep children engaged, and make the messages relatable.

Kids of destiny

"All of the teaching is very relevant to kids today," Ellis said. "We incorporate passages of Scripture that bring it into why it's relevant to their lives today."

basecamp3Base Camp director Kelly Ellis doesn’t mind getting a little animated when teaching a biblical lesson.And that means helping them understand God has a plan and purpose in their lives.

"We're kids of destiny," said Rolando Tercero, a 7th-grader at Burton Middle School.

Rolando is referring to an ear-splitting chant the children recite before the start of every Bible study: "I believe God has a plan for my life. I am not an accident, a mistake or unwanted. I am valuable, gifted and talented. God's love for me never ends. I am a child of God. I am a kid of destiny!"

Knowing this warm's Ellis' heart.

"Many of the kids would be home alone or wandering the streets if not for this ministry," she said. "Especially as the kids get older, they are pulled into illegal behaviors. The reality is these kids are very, very vulnerable. They come from home situations that are so disruptive and painful they will seek anything to find acceptance.

"If we weren't here, they'd seek anything to find acceptance and love and they'll fall victim to those lies starting at 10 or 11 years old," Ellis continued.

Volunteer Caitlin Jackson, a sophomore at Cornerstone University majoring in social work, gets that.

Long-term commitment is vital

basecamp4Ty Davis credits what he learned at Base Camp when he was younger for the Christian life he and his family enjoy today."It's important to invest in kids long term," said Jackson, who's been helping out since she was a college freshman. "I've learned that consistency is really important when it comes to relationships with the kids. When the fun wears off, it's still important to invest in kids."

Faithfulness to her calling it was has kept Ellis director of base camp throughout the 23 years of peaks and valleys inherent in any ministry.

"I know my job is to impact the lives of urban youth and I take that very, very seriously," Ellis said. "Every single night we're making a difference in their lives. When I hear people say to me, 'You have the greatest kids,' it abolishes the stereotype that inner-city kids are disrespectful and troublemakers. When you 'train a child in the way they should go, when they are old, they shall not depart from it.'"

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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