“I looked at things from the 1,000 foot level, it was my job,” said Bennie Ingraham, the regional outreach director at Menlo church for 24 years now.
The term “regional” refers to the local Bay Area, like Redwood and East Palo Alto. They encompass 80% of the outreach, while the other 20% of outreach responsibilities goes to more 20,000 feet stuff—global missions.
“We don’t have to go overseas to serve, the world is getting smaller.” This is definitely true of the Bay Area, but Bennie also believes that an integral part to Christian discipleship is our calling to serve our neighbors, as well as to serve with them.
In charge of 2 campuses in the region (Menlo Park and San Jose), Bennie’s job involved connecting people with opportunities to serve (such as volunteering in Hope Horizon’s robotics or tutoring program) and organizing programs like prayer walks or Compassion Weekend projects (now called Serve Your City) in East Palo Alto and other nearby areas. She believes that serving in this capacity is part of Christian discipleship: “It's part of one's discipleship, to serve others and learn from them. One of the things that I loved most about my job is that when someone serves, whether it be at a soup kitchen or volunteering with a kid over overseas, it changes people. It changes your thought process and you see the world through God's eyes. And, so, not everyone could go overseas or go internationally. But yet, there's lots of things we can do here in our community.”
Volunteering with organizations like Hope Horizon grows disciples in Christ (the students)—true—but Bennie believes that the unique value that something like Hope Horizon gives to the East Palo Alto community is how it helps develop great leaders too.
“I think the thing that's great about it—Hope horizon really focuses on people in the community and developing leaders.So, a person is going to become a great leader and be in that community… I mean, that's a benefit to the community. So, It's not like we're pulling them away, you know, they're staying where they are. One thing that we said about Hope Horizon is that it might be kind of a smaller organization , but it goes deep. It’s kind of a narrow but deep organization. They really invest in their kids that come to their programs. In turn, that really can impact their families as well. They sprinkle leaders within the community.
We talked about how brain drain is a problem on a global scale, and how developing community leaders is so crucial. Bennie tells the story of a mundane but impactful moment during a mission trip to Ukraine:
“Focus on people and what they have. We go somewhere, and it's so cheap for us Americans to provide for needs and programs. We can just do this and do that, but it's not helpful for them. A long time ago, we took a mission trip to Ukraine. We hosted a birthday party at an orphanage for approximately 50 kids. And we wanted it to be a great party and celebration. The director after the party said to us… You know, you have ruined it for us because we can never do the same thing. Yeah, not to say we can't ever better their situations, but it's about meeting them where they’re at. I think that’s important.”
Bennie believes that Hope Horizon is doing that kind of difficult work of meeting the community where it’s at. “I think over the years, I have seen that Hope Horizon really supports the kids academically and spiritually and is committed to them for the long haul.”
Bennie recalls her moment of realization of the kind of deep work that Hope Horizon does at an event on the open field where there were many different stations for all the ways that people can get involved at Hope Horizon. “That was a page turner for me, because, I was like… Wow. They're involved in so many aspects of a kid’s life.” Hope Horizon tries to be there end to end. At the open field event, Bennie saw how even one of Menlo’s days of volunteering to paint a classroom fits like a puzzle into the bigger picture.
As Bennie prepares to leave her 1,000 foot job, she plans to land on the ground through what she calls her “retirement rhythm”. Bennie now has the opportunity and plans to get herself involved as a volunteer at organizations like Hope Horizon. Always seeing the programs from a big picture perspective in a necessary coordinating role, she finally has the opportunity to be personally involved. She’s not quite sure yet as to what the best fit would be, “Very rarely does God ever say—Okay, do this and you’re going to be great. I think the way He operates, I get to try different things. I believe in Hope Horizon so much and they’ve given so much for me too. Feel like now I’ve got the time, now I can do that.” Bennie asks for prayers that she be attentive to what God wants her to do and learn as she becomes more intimate with Him.