Compassion for the Foreigner: Jarrett Meek, Mission Adelante

This is 1 of 4 in a series of posts about Mission Adelante, a ministry to the Latino and Bhutanese communities of Kansas City, Kansas.

“Who does God call us as believers to show special compassion to because they are vulnerable?”

This is a question Jarrett Meek, founder and director of Mission Adelante, often asks new volunteers.

“Widows and orphans” is their quick response.

Then he shows them a list of Bible verses discussing this particular topic. Nearly every time God commands His people to care for the widows and orphans, He also commands them to care for the foreigners – the immigrants.

This is a big part of the motivation behind Mission Adelante’s ministry of making disciples “by serving, sharing life, and sharing Jesus with people from other places.” Specifically, Mission Adelante serves the Latino and Bhutanese communities of Kansas City.

Jarrett’s compassion and love for people from other places began when he experienced life as a foreigner himself. In 2002, he and his wife, Kristen, moved with their two young daughters to Costa Rica to attend language school with the goal of going to Bolivia as missionaries. Despite years of ministry experience, he found that navigating a new culture and language presented a whole new set of challenges.

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Jarrett had grown up attending church but not believing in God. As he looked at the people in the pews around him, he wondered if any of them really believed in the things they talked about because he didn’t see evidence of a passion for Jesus in their lives. Then he headed off to the University of Kansas where he became involved with a campus ministry called Ichthus.

“I found a group of people in Icthus that, for the first time, made me think, ‘Wow, these people really believe what they’re talking about. They’ve got passion for Jesus, and they love each other… I need to take a second look at this Jesus thing.’”

So, that’s what he did, and by his junior year, he was an Ichthus student leader. He met his wife through the ministry, and after they graduated, they attended Heartland Community Church where they started a small group for young married couples. That first group resulted in ten new groups, and eventually, Jarrett joined Heartland staff, where he continued to develop a passion for discipleship and serving.

But in 2000, Jarrett began to sense that his time at Heartland was drawing to a close. Slowly, he realized he was being drawn toward places where the Gospel was less accessible than it is in the United States. That path led his family to Bolivia, via Costa Rica.

On their first morning in Costa Rica, Jarrett went looking for breakfast for his family. He was hoping to find donuts at a bakery, but the only thing he found was a kind of pastry made from dry bread. As he walked back to their new house, his neighbor greeted him with “Hola! Cómo le va?” – a way of saying, “How’s it going?”

“I thought I knew a little bit of Spanish, but…I was stumped,” Jarrett said. “I thought, ‘Oh, no, I don’t know Spanish after all.’”

Their first Sunday brought a similarly uncomfortable experience. They decided to attend church but weren’t sure what time the service started, so they arrived halfway through the sermon. Because they wanted to participate in the worship, Jarrett’s wife decided to ask what time the second service would start. However, instead of asking, “What time is the service?” she unintentionally asked, “What time is the beer?”

“We didn’t ever go back to that church,” Jarrett said, laughing a little.

But at another church they tried, they met Edwin and Zeidy, a Costa Rican couple who took Jarrett and Kristen’s family under their wing.

“They didn’t speak a lick of English, but…they took an interest in us and started inviting us to do things with them,” Jarrett said. “Then [Edwin] started meeting with me every Thursday evening to practice Spanish with me.”

Jarrett Meek Mission Adelante

Today, Jarrett refers to Edwin as the grandfather of Mission Adelante. “What he demonstrated in terms of compassion, and relationship, and friendship was the heart of what Mission Adelante is all about. It’s a combination of the ministry values I learned at Ichthus and Heartland and the compassion toward the outsider that I learned walking with Edwin in Costa Rica.”

Jarrett’s family went on to Bolivia as planned, and when their time there was complete, they came back to Kansas City with an idea for starting a ministry.

They returned to the United States in December of 2004, and by April of the following year, they had formed a team of people passionate about their mission to serve people from other places, chosen a neighborhood with a Latino population upward of 75%, signed a contract on a house, and begun trying to meet people in the neighborhood.

Their ministry grew very organically as they developed relationships with people already living in the neighborhood. Not long after that, they offered an English class in their home to some of their new friends. A few months later, many of the students in their English classes showed interest in learning more about Jesus, and so they began holding Bible studies also.

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mon maya rai at passion awards

Mission Adelante’s outreach to the Bhutanese people in their neighborhood began in 2009. Today, the ministries to the Latino and Bhutanese people include English classes for adults, a number of house churches, and leadership and discipleship programs for elementary, middle school, and teen kids. They have recently begun several community initiatives too, including a neighborhood thrift store.

During the past ten years of ministry through Mission Adelante, Jarrett has been thrilled to see the ways community members have taken ownership over the neighborhood. Twenty years ago, an economic study was done on Adelante’s neighborhood, and the results predicted that Central Avenue would be a ghost town by 2000.

“But if you look at Central Avenue today, it is thriving,” Jarrett said. “And it is thriving in a large part because of immigrant businesses that have been started in the last 10 or 15 years….What’s fun is that in the last ten years, I’ve been able to see that whole process play out, and Mission Adelante gets to play a small part in that process.”

Personally, Jarrett’s favorite part of ministry at Mission Adelante is discipleship. He especially loves having the opportunity to see those he has discipled become ministry leaders themselves.

“I never want to lose touch with that piece. That’s my passion.”

Have a question, comment, or encouragement for Jarrett? Click here. To see the needs he has listed as prayer requests, click here. To give to Mission Adelante, click here.

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