by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It might not resemble the athletic move it brings to mind, but TopekaJUMP is certainly not short of a similar energy.
And if organizers get their wish, more than 1,000 people will leap into its Nehemiah Action Assembly on April 25 at Topeka’s Grace Cathedral.
The assembly is just one activity JUMP conducts annually “to build people-based power to influence local decision-makers to consider policy and funding changes that address systems which unintentionally perpetuate poverty and justice.”
The JUMP acronym stands for Justice, Unity and Ministry Project. Formed in May 2012, the coalition consists of 19 Christian churches across Shawnee County, including two Catholic parishes: Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Most Pure Heart of Mary.
For Steve Schiffelbein, a member of Mother Teresa Parish and an at-large member of JUMP’s executive committee, involvement allows him to put his faith into action.
Retired from state government, Schiffelbein worked in social services and saw this as a natural fit.
“Basically, it’s a way to put faith in action,” he said. “You’re joining forces with other like-minded people who have the same values and are concerned about justice. And then, you can have more of an impact in your community that way.”
Lloyd Becker, also a member of Mother Teresa, has been involved in all types of mercy charities, but longed for a way to become active in justice ministry.
“For me, there are several references in the Bible about doing mercy and justice. And I’m pretty big on the mercy part, but I don’t really do anything for justice,” he said. “So that’s why I got involved.”
Christy Grecian, executive secretary of JUMP and a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary, has a similar mindset.
“I help these people today, but tomorrow they’re going to have the same problems,” she said.
JUMP provides long-term systemic solutions to the problems.
The opportunity to create systemic solutions also appealed to Anne Martinez, also a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary.
A neonatal intensive care nurse, Martinez has heard countless stories of how a lack of affordable housing or medical care, among other factors, contributed to infants having special health care needs. The idea of being able to prevent some of those situations spoke to her.
But what she didn’t count on was the friendships she’s developing as a coalition member.
“This was an opportunity for us to step out into the community a little more and engage with our brother and sister churches in our community. And to me, that has been a really beautiful part of JUMP — getting to work side by side with folks that I might not have met that are now good friends.”
Most importantly, JUMP translates into action.
“We’re becoming a collective voice for people in our community that don’t have a strong voice,” Martinez said.
Like Martinez, Roberta Wirth, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, has been encouraged by working with other churches.
“It’s so powerful to hear other people share your passion for justice,” she said.
Most Pure Heart pastor Father Greg Hammes has been gratified to see his parishioners grow in fellowship with other Christians.
“That’s been a real blessing,” he said.
JUMP’s lead organizer, Shanae Elem, considers unity the coalition’s greatest asset.
“This coalition is one of the most diverse organizations in the county,” Elem said.
“We haven’t covered all the bases yet, but one of the more challenging barriers for groups to overcome in the city of Topeka has been race. And we have done that successfully now for four years, building strong relationships from the super-conservative Pentecostal black churches to . . . Mennonites to Catholics.
But, she continued, they are overcoming significant barriers in the community as well.
“One of the strongest elements of the organization is that we engage people who live [in] poverty and injustice. We engage them in becoming leaders, in becoming a part of forming the solution to those problems,” she said.
“It’s very hard to engage the people who are working two and three jobs, who are dealing with substance abuse, who are living those issues,” said Elem.
“We’re one of the only groups in Topeka who has been able to do that successfully,” she added.
That unity, according to Schiffelbein, is hard to ignore because it crosses many lines.
“We’re nonpartisan. We show up at those public meetings with the city council, county commissioners, the school boards or whatever civic group it is with no vested interest. . . . We’re coming in there from a biblical perspective, a moral perspective.”
Moral perspective is the whole basis of the coalition, said Elem.
“My calling is about creating an opportunity, establishing a vehicle through which congregations who follow the Gospel can live out God’s call to do justice,” she said.
“This is a way to live that out, and it’s important to me to engage congregations in this work because I believe that it’s through this work that the church can reclaim its prophetic voice in our community,” she continued.
Most Pure Heart parishioner Lenora Kinzie sees JUMP as an opportunity to address both the symptoms and causes of poverty.
It’s not enough to notice that there is bleeding, she explained, or even to stop that bleeding.
“You can Band-Aid it all you want but, at some point, you’ve got to deal with the issue,” she said.
Dealing with the issue is the underlying premise of JUMP.
In four years, JUMP has been involved in several projects or campaigns to propose systemic solutions and best practices to government leaders. One campaign focused on helping at-risk elementary school students; a second, on finding additional money for employment services for those with mental illness.
For these and others, the process has been the same, Wirth said.
“You listen to the community,” he said. “You get the ideas. You choose which ideas to act on, and then you study it to figure out what you’re going to do.
“Then you rally the people behind it.”