MIAMI, Fla.—When many wouldn’t, Angel and Jason Pittman believe—in their neighbors, in their community and in what God can do. After years of living that message in Overtown, the poorest neighborhood in Miami, the community is starting to believe, too.
The Pittmans serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Overtown through Touching Miami with Love, an urban ministry operating since 1993. Drug trafficking, violence, failed programs, racial tension and single-parent families are just a few of the local challenges facing Overtown, but now residents are beginning to come together to talk about community change.
“It’s been great to see them start to take charge and be excited about themselves being part of the solution,” said Jason Pittman, a graduate of Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. “They can do things to help make things better. That’s very exciting to see them catching a vision to what God can do here.”
Appointed as CBF field personnel in 2002, the Pittmans followed their heart for urban ministry to inner-city Detroit. In 2005, they moved to Miami, where he serves as executive director for Touching Miami with Love, and she works as director of development.
After a year of building relationships, they restarted an after-school children’s program at Touching Miami with Love, focused on the goal of making education fun. Children who couldn’t even identify their country or state on a map before the program started now can locate every state on a national map and all the continents on a globe.
“People in the community started seeing what a great program we were providing and came to us about partnerships,” Mrs. Pittman said. “We got a major grant that has allowed us to increase our hours and (number of) kids served. We’ve seen explosive growth.”
But the ministry doesn’t just help children. Programs also are offered for parents, and the Pittmans hope entire families will engage with Touching Miami with Love and work toward community transformation.
“Our calling is to this neighborhood and to see it transformed into a picture of God’s kingdom here on earth—a community that’s safe where people can live and raise a family. One that offers hope, opportunity and resources,” Pittman said.
After 15 years of Touching Miami with Love, positive signs abound. Youth are turning to Christ. There’s growing energy behind planting a neighborhood church. Residents are recognizing their own skills and starting to believe they can better the neighborhood. The Pittmans see the change because they live in the community and are part of its daily life.
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“We experience the same thing everyone else is experiencing. If we hear a gun battle at night, they’re hearing the same thing we hear,” he said. “Living here builds a trust and camaraderie that you can’t have if you don’t live here.”
His wife added, “You cannot be the presence of Christ if you’re not willing to be present.”
Through a ministry of short-term presence, churches have become a vital part of the ministry. Many churches come each year to help lead summer camps, which make an impact on children and youth and also help establish credibility in the community.
After a 2005 hurricane, Touching Miami with Love stored belongings for many families whose apartments were damaged and condemned. Many of these families didn’t know Touching Miami with Love, but a respected community leader yelled, “These are the people that love on our kids in the summer.”
“If we hadn’t had church groups coming in and loving on their kids, we never would have had that open door. Never,” Pittman said. “Churches allow our impact to be so much greater.”