By Debbonnaire Kovacs, June 8, 2016

There were dreams being dreamed, and the humans involved didn’t know, at first, that others were dreaming the same dreams. But the Holy Spirit knew.

In Philadelphia, lead pastor of REACH Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church,  Dr. Tara Vincross had been dreaming of a new kind of evangelism since she began her doctorate. In an interview for Spectrum in November 2014, Vincross said, “Around five years ago, at the beginning of my Doctor of Ministry program, we were instructed to write a Ministry development plan, discussing where God would lead in the next five years of ministry.  As I prayed over this, I sensed God unfolding a vision for a young adult church plant, a ministry internship, incarnational housing in the neighborhood we would be seeking to reach, and young adults being trained in ministry in the urban context through a wholistic evangelism school.”

At the same time, Columbia Union president Dave Weigley, Frank Bondurant, Columbia’s vice president for Ministries Development, and the union executive committee were imagining a school that trained young adults in making disciples for Jesus in urban ministry. The result was REACH Columbia Union Urban Evangelism School, and they were now searching for a director.

Vincross said, “Over the course of nine months of conversations and the unfolding vision, God brought this together in beautiful collaboration!”

She was named director in the fall of 2014; I heard her speak about this ministry at the October 2014 Association of Adventist Women annual conference. She also told Spectrum that the placement of the school in Philadelphia was a particular answer to prayer for her, since she and her husband do not yet feel called to leave their Philadelphia church. She is still an active pastor as well as director of the Urban Evangelism School. In fact, the church, which is a lively one whose average age Vincross reported as 27 at the AAW conference, collaborates actively with the school and its programs.

The school is a twelve-month intensive program that combines classwork with hands-on urban evangelism experience. The classes teach such diverse subjects as personal and church finance, canvassing, conflict resolution, studies of Ellen White, and of course the heart of the program, “Knowing and Sharing Jesus.” The hands-on experience includes summer canvassing in four participating territories, and helping with outreach projects and ministerial and educational outings. Students earn college credits from Washington Adventist University, transferable to other universities.

On its website, REACH Columbia defines itself as “an exciting new kind of evangelism school. REACH offers a unique, immersive experience in urban ministry in the city of Philadelphia in direct cooperation with a vibrant young adult church plant, which has been living incarnationally within its neighborhood for over three years. Director Dr. Tara VinCross is thrilled to offer a diverse, hands-on experience to students in the areas of discipleship, community development, urban agriculture, and various aspects of evangelism. Students will develop a working understanding of the cycle of transformational evangelism through experience in personal, public, and literature evangelism. They will learn valuable leadership and life skills as they connect meaningfully with their neighbors to bring about lasting change.”

A few weeks ago, on May 22, 2016, REACH graduated its first class of thirteen, during the 27th Columbia Union Conference Constituency Session at Potomac Conference’s Southern Asian church in Silver Spring, Md. The Columbia Union Visitor has the full story and more photos.

They quote President Dave Weigley as saying, “I want to thank you for being pioneers in this school of urban evangelism. I’m delighted you accepted this challenge to come to the school. You have really pioneered a way forward for us here. We as constituents, the sponors of the school are proud and delighted.”

Dr. Vincross added her delight at watching the various ways God is leading different students as they leave the program, some headed back to school, some to fulltime positions in different fields, some as Bible workers in different churches, but all, she said, “now with a greater passion and commitment to God as a result of their time with REACH Columbia Union.”

One student, in fact, is not leaving. He wants to come back and help the next class. He says his life and ministry have new meaning as he looks at the needs of others rather than only his own needs.

I encourage you to read more at all the websites listed. REACH also has a Facebook page (where they are encouraging applications for next year) and a short clip on YouTube.

Adventist Today joins the families and friends of these pioneering graduates as they seek to share their Christianity in contexts our earlier church pioneers never imagined.