In 1997 when the Rev. Reggie Longcrier founded Exodus Missionary Outreach Church, his message was that they were starting “The Exodus Movement” which would bring people and communities from disgrace to dignity. This movement included a non traditional multi-ethnic church, a growing prison ministry, and a vision for a housing program to serve the least of these. Rev. Susan Smith Walker was there from the beginning. She has seen the Exodus Movement manifest into a thriving inclusive church where she is associate pastor, a strong prison ministry that brings inmates into the community regularly, and the success of Exodus Homes where she is the assistant executive director. Exodus Homes is a United Way agency that provides 60 beds of faith based supportive housing for homeless recovering people returning to the community from treatment centers and prison.
The program has a national reputation for excellence and innovation. Walker has spoken at the White House, and as far as Los Angeles about the unique peer led continuum that has reduced neighborhood crime, reduced prison recidivism, and given thousands an opportunity to learn a new way to live after addiction or incarceration.
Three years ago, an old friend of Walker’s who lives in Germany came to tour the ministry while in the United States after reading about it on Facebook. She was so impressed by what she saw that she returned to her church in Germany and convinced The American Protestant Church (APC) in Bonn to begin sending annual financial support to Exodus Homes. The APC is a very diverse English speaking congregation with 40% of the members from Africa, 30% from Germany, and the rest from countries all over the world who are in Bonn to go to university or work. Muslim people from many countries are settling in Germany, and they are very challenged by the cultural and language barriers of the growing number of their Middle Eastern neighbors.
The relationship between the APC in Germany and the Exodus ministry has grown stronger over the years. They have invited Walker to come to Germany and facilitate a leadership retreat where she will help participants develop greater empathy and compassion while untying the inner knots that block the Holy Spirit from freely leading people into servant leadership. She has been prayerfully developing an interactive program that will include highlighting how Exodus church, the prison ministry, and Exodus Homes work together to make the community a better place to live for all people. She will also share other ways to make a difference at home and in the world such as the Shelter Box program (www.shelterbox.org), and Compassion International (www.compassion.com).
APC pastor the Rev. John Carrick says “There are a surprising number of Muslim people in our neighborhood. I do encounter them around the church and in the park near the church all the time. There is a huge cultural barrier for most of us in reaching out to them because of a language difference for many of us and because we do not know what is appropriate or polite in their culture. Many of us rub shoulders with Middle Eastern folks but make no eye contact and do not speak to each other.” Walker sees similarities between how Germans experience discomfort with the “other” just as people here are unsure how to feel about homeless recovering people as they try to re-enter society and begin again.
The retreat will be held 80km from Bonn at the The Familienferiendorf Hübingen located in the mountain setting of the Nassau Natural Park, Westerwald. Walker leaves for Germany on September 30, 2014 and will return on October 6, 2014. She is thrilled that what the Exodus ministry has accomplished in Hickory, N.C. will now impact church leaders in Europe. Many members of the APC are only in Bonn for a season, so what they learn in this retreat has the potential to spread worldwide when they return to their home countries.
Walker is excited and anxious about the opportunity, saying, “I have to remind myself that God is the unseen power at work in our ministry, and that only God could orchestrate an invitation like this. Who am I to go to Germany and speak to people from all over the world about empathy and compassion? All I know is if God brought me to it, God will bring me through it. I pray that God uses me to make a difference.”