This is 2 of 4 in a series of posts about Mission Adelante, a ministry to the Latino and Bhutanese communities of Kansas City, Kansas. You can read about Mission Adelante’s founder, Jarrett Meek, here.
“It’s time to go home.”
Those were the words Kristen Maxwell heard from God in 2009. As the only member of her family to grow up and move away from her home town of Kansas City, Kristen wore the status of being different and independent like a badge of honor.
“[Moving back] was something I never would have picked for myself,” she said. “But I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘It’s time to go back. I have things for you to do there.’”
Kristen had learned how to serve others from a young age at home. Her older sister is a quadriplegic who has cerebral palsy, and so serving was a natural part of life.
“It taught me…to realize that the world is bigger than just myself,” she said. “Different was normal in our context, which I think was a really big blessing.”
Around age 16, Kristen began feeling a call to some sort of ministry, but she didn’t know what that would look like yet. Her senior year of high school, she had the opportunity to take on a paid staff position with a youth ministry at her church, and she began to consider middle-school ministry. Then during college, she took an internship with a church just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, in an area with a large refugee population.
“I met my first two refugee families and just fell in love with them,” she said. Her perspective shifted, and by the time she returned to Kansas City, she was a licensed elementary education teacher with a passion for helping refugees.
Back in KC, Kristen took a position as a teacher at an elementary school on the rougher side of town. After her job interview at the school, she called her mom, crying and a little bit angry. “How come no one ever told me that poverty existed in my own city?”
That year she experienced an entirely new culture. “My eyes were opened to a world I had never seen, a neighborhood where there was poverty, abandoned houses…things that growing up as a Johnson County kid I didn’t know existed in Kansas City.”
Kristen spent the next few months teaching and searching online for opportunities to work with refugee families. Eventually, she stumbled across Mission Adelante, where they were just getting ready to launch their Bhutanese children’s ministry. Kristen joined them as a volunteer for their first Kids Club in 2010 and has been involved in one way or another ever since.
Today, she is a full-time staff member and the director of the Bhutanese children’s ministry. In that role, she leads the Tuesday night kids’ outreach and the Leaders in Training after-school program.
The Tuesday night program provides biblical teaching and positive adult role models for around 80 kids from birth through 6th grade.
The Leaders in Training program serves 18 kids three times a week. It is more exclusive, requiring kids to apply to join, but it teaches them everything from practical life skills and supplemental academic activities, to character development and community service.
In the process of serving, Kristen has found family among those she sought to serve. One family has “adopted” her and given her the Nepali name Teertha, which means “a holy place.” Last year, she experienced a series of health problems, and many of the women she had ministered to and prayed for began bringing her food and calling to ask how she was doing.
“It has been really cool to see a relationship that I thought was me serving them turn into them loving me like sisters.”
She vividly remembers some of her first interactions with refugee families through Mission Adelante. Head lice is a common problem for many children after leaving the refugee camps. Kristen received a phone call from a family, asking for help removing the lice.
When she arrived at the house, she saw that the little girl had hair down to the middle of her back. For the next two hours, Kristen searched through the girl’s hair, looking for lice, while she listened to the mother’s story of how the family had decided to come to Kansas City. She witnessed the grandmother’s love for her family and watched the other young girls of the family interact and love and serve each other.
“Even though these families don’t love and follow Jesus, there’s so much of the Gospel in how they love and serve each other,” she explained. “And the hospitality they present to strangers is just mind-blowing…it’s hard not to fall in love with them and not to feel called.”