PHENIX CITY, Ala. — This summer, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) Kingdom Teams will venture into a new region in Phenix City, Ala. However, Alabama is not new to EMM, having operated ministries in this state since the 1940s when it began sending evangelists.
EMM was mostly engaged in the southwestern and north-central parts of the state, but will now be embarking into the eastern side of the state with Kingdom Teams (also known as K-Teams). There will be two opportunities for youth groups to participate in Phenix City — the weeks of July 5–10 and July 12–17.
Kingdom Teams were developed two decades ago to provide a one-week U.S.-based, cross-cultural opportunity for youth to serve and be discipled. While K-Teams have operated in several urban locations, the most recent location has been Lancaster City, Pa.
EMM Mission Team Director Lorri Bentch elaborated: “K-teams offer youth the chance to ‘taste and see’ cross-cultural ministry and to tangibly serve a local community. The one week is a valuable discipleship experience in itself, as well as a way to hopefully pique interest in future service. After successful programs in Lancaster and Lebanon, we're eager to bring this opportunity to Alabama as well.”
Initially working in rural Alabama communities, EMM leadership reached out to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for advice. In a 1959 reply, King wrote: “In the last few years I have been so involved in the struggle to break down the barriers of segregation and discrimination in the urban South that I have not had a chance to look into the rural situation.”
EMM leadership would later have the opportunity to meet King and glean insights from him. Mission stations and voluntary service units then began to develop in urban centers like Birmingham and Mobile.
Due to the success of the Lancaster K-Team program, which has worked with a number of community partners, EMM began to explore how teams could be sent to other small urban centers in the U.S.
In 2019, K-Teams launched a second location in Lebanon City, Pa., under the leadership of Krista Martin, Kingdom Teams director. After a successful pilot of the Lebanon program, Martin traveled to Alabama to determine whether the program could also be multiplied in Phenix City.
“As youth grow and develop it is crucial for them to experience ways of life different than their own and participate in something bigger than themselves. This happens naturally in urban settings where crossing cultures has become inevitable,” said Martin. “It has been beautiful to see this happening through K-teams in Lancaster and it is an honor to partner with individuals who are well connected in their cities to multiply this simple model which primarily includes interactive teaching and hands-on experiences.”
K-Teams learn and grow together as a group and individually in their journey with Christ as they participate in engaging discipleship sessions. Other activities may include prayer walks, cultural learning experiences, team-building experiences, and service projects.
The vision to bring K-Teams to Phenix City was initiated by Chris Epp. Having served as EMM’s Harrisburg (Pa.) Discipleship Center director from 2004 to 2012, Epp will provide experienced leadership for teams coming to Alabama.
"When you find something good, really good, you want to tell others about it! You want them to taste it, smell it, experience it for themselves and see how good it is!” said Epp.
Epp added, “Sweet tea is served in 33-gallon barrels here, and our barbeque will blow your socks off! But the people, the children and the commitment to impact every aspect of humanity simply and practically … That’s what I am excited for ya’ll to taste and see.”
While fun is part of the K-Team experience, Epp highlighted the spiritual importance of the program: “I love to walk with others in cultivating a deeper and richer relationship with Jesus that produces a more authentic mission lifestyle.”
Participants will work collaboratively with Village Church, a Free Methodist congregation in Phenix City. This congregation is active in the Five Points neighborhood, serving lower-income families in the community.
Phenix City is part of the Columbus, Ga., metropolitan area, which spans five counties surrounding the Chattahoochee River. The city’s name is derived from the Eagle & Phenix Mills company based on the Georgia side of the metropolitan area.
The original Eagle Mill was a cotton manufacturing plant that supplied a significant amount of uniform material for the military of the Confederate States of America. Phenix City is known as being home to the last battle of the American Civil War.
During the war, Union soldiers destroyed the mill. When the mill was rebuilt in 1866, the company added the alternatively spelled name of the mythological phoenix.
Despite a contentious past of segregation and racial tension, the city made history and elected its first African American mayor in 2016, Eddie N. Lowe, a former linebacker for the Canadian Football League.
To learn more about K-Teams and to sign up for opportunities in Phenix City, Lancaster, and Lebanon, go to emm.org/kteams.