Not long ago I had an opportunity to see a side of Atlanta that many people like me – educated, well-fed, financially blessed, and confident about my future – probably never see. My afternoon began with Rev. Tim Cummins, Executive Director of Whirlwind Missions, asking me if I’d ever eaten roasted goat. I happen to be fond of goat but have never had it served in an Ethiopian restaurant. As we headed to Clarkston to have lunch and talk, I began to realize what an adventurous day was in store for me.
When we arrived at the restaurant Tim advised me we would likely be the only Christians there, the usual patrons were Somali Muslims. Talk about being thrown to the lions! Yet he walked in with a smile on his face, spoke to everyone nearby, and then proceeded to tell me about the work of Whirlwind Missions as we ate.
Located near the International Village in Doraville, Whirlwind Missions serves immigrants and refuges coming to Atlanta from over 145 different countries. Most arrive to this country unable to speak the language or adequately care for their families. The children have a particularly difficult time in school because their parents cannot help them with homework. Many men find themselves taken advantage of by unscrupulous people who prey on their language barrier. The International Village (not so much a defined village as a densely populated region 5 miles in radius) is home to many apartment complexes catering to the housing needs of these immigrants and refuges.
Calling himself a field operative in God’s Special Forces, Tim goes into such apartment complexes, secures a unit, and establishes an after school program. There he, with the help of his two young adult children and a staff of volunteers, provide after school mentoring for children and English as Second Language classes for adults. These services also provide a bridge to building trust and an opportunity to lead the residents into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Whirlwind currently operates these onsite missions in thirty-five apartment communities.
After finishing our lunch we headed toward the Clarkston Community Center where I was introduced to another ministry, one supported in part by Whirlwind, The Refuge Sewing Center. Here refugee women of Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Bhutan, Burma and other countries, come to learn how to sew and make their own clothing. In the context of arts and crafts, the women also find Christian fellowship and a nonthreatening environment in which to hear the Gospel. We were there to make sure the ministry leaders were scheduled to learn how to use the new sewing machines Tim had purchased for them. “We are hoping to help the women earn money through the sale of their handmade garments,” he explained. “Sort of a micro-economy but right here in Atlanta where ethnic clothing for many people is not readily available.”
In route to our next stop Tim explained how he was also helping men to acquire lawn equipment to begin their own small scale lawn services. “If we can help them get contracts with the apartment complexes where they live, where we have a mission, it becomes a win-win for everyone,” he said. “Not only are we teaching them the language and leading them to Christ, we are helping them to realize their own American dream.”
Moments later we pulled into the parking lot of the International Bible Church where we were to deliver Bibles that had been translated in Somali, Arabic, Nepalese, Swahili and Kinrwanda. “You aren’t going to get most of these people into a traditional white or black church,” Tim explained. “You have to reach them in an environment where they are comfortable, where they can understand what’s going on. That’s why we supply Bibles in all these languages. That’s what serving others in the name of Christ means to me.”
Our last stop was at one of the apartment missions. We pulled into an old and run down complex, one you might think you wouldn’t want to walk past in the dark. People looked at us from behind drawn blinds or off balconies on the second floor. But when Tim got out of the car something amazing happened – children came running up to him. He greeted them all by name and began asking them about their day at school.
We stepped into the Whirlwind apartment that had been converted into classrooms. A poster quoting John 3:16 hung on one wall and a few tables were outfitted with computers for the children to use when working on their homework. Before long Tim was summoned by the mom of a crying middle school child. I, a stranger, wasn’t welcome to enter their apartment, but Tim, a familiar face, went inside to see what the matter was. I checked my watch and saw that three hours had passed and I needed to run along.
The next morning I checked Tim’s blog to see how the rest of his afternoon went. It turns out the middle schooler left her binder, filled with important paperwork, at school. She was afraid of both loosing the binder and getting into trouble for not returning the papers. Tim drove the mom and daughter to the school and retraced their steps until they found her binder!
Tim’s motto is “Take the Church to the People.” I know he is making that motto a reality. I’ve seen him doing it. He and Whirlwind Missions are truly reaching the world for Christ one person at a time.