This is 1 of 4 in a series of posts about Freedom Fire, a ministry to youth and families living in urban contexts.
A few years ago, Bruce McGregor and a group of Freedom Fire volunteers showed up in the Chouteau neighborhood of Kansas City, ready to do a Friday night outreach.
The neighborhood was currently dealing with gang wars and shootings, so Bruce had brought his “green beret” volunteers – those he could trust to deal with anything they might come up against. The group came at the request of the housing authorities who had heard that crime rates in neighborhoods previously served by Freedom Fire had dropped by fifty percent.
The outreach went well, though Bruce took note of a number of drug dealers strategically placed on nearby balconies in order to keep an eye out for cops and customers. Toward the end of the night, as Bruce and his team were packing up, Bruce heard a couple of these men calling his name.
“Coach Bruce! Coach Bruce!” they said.
It turned out that both had taken part in Freedom Fire’s summer sports outreaches to youth several years before, and they remembered Bruce from their time there. Now, however, both were dealing drugs, and one of them had an infected bullet wound in his leg from a deal gone bad.
Through reconnecting with Freedom Fire, the man with the bullet in his leg was able to have his wound treated, and both men ultimately gave their lives to the Lord. Today, one of those men leads Friday night outreaches in the same neighborhood where he used to sell drugs.
That is just one of many stories Bruce often tells about people he has met and worked with through Freedom Fire, the ministry he started eighteen years ago as a way “to strengthen the inner city by raising up leadership to guide the community spiritually, economically and socially.” Progress often seems slow, as he watches many people struggle to shake free the chains of addictions and poverty.
“But it’s about how far they’ve come, not how far they have yet to go,” he said. “Some of these people would be dead if it weren’t for the Gospel.”
Bruce’s personal journey toward urban ministry began when he was a child – though he didn’t recognize the signs at the time.
“I think how I got into urban ministry is kind of funny,” he said with a laugh. “It reflects God’s sense of humor, because I think I was one of the least likely people to be in urban ministry.”
Bruce grew up in a well-to-do home in Wichita, Kansas. His dad was an attorney and successful businessman, and their family lived two doors down from Bill Lear, founder of Learjet.
However, when Bruce was still quite young, his sister, who was thirteen years older than him, adopted two biracial boys. Since this was in the late 1960s/early 1970s, racial tensions were high, and Bruce witnessed for the first time some of the struggles people of different ethnic backgrounds faced.
Then in junior high, Bruce went to a rally where David Wilkerson spoke. Wilkerson was a well-known inner-city evangelist and the author of the book The Cross and the Switchblade, and it was at the rally that Bruce accepted Jesus.
A short time later, Bruce’s church began sponsoring World Impact, an inner-city ministry that now has nine locations across the United States. Bruce began volunteering with the ministry and, through his involvement, was discipled by two inner-city missionaries.
Now, Bruce looks at each of those circumstances as steps along the path toward leading an inner-city ministry, but the process took time. Bruce attended Wheaton College in Illinois where his call to ministry was solidified. Later, he taught high school in inner-city Kansas City and was part of a church plant that grew to 3,000 members in just a couple years. Then in 1997, he felt the call to start Freedom Fire.
Freedom Fire began with an invitation for local children to sign up for summer baseball and attend Bible studies which would be taught after each game. This resulted in a roster of 100 kids who were split up into seven teams and coached by 20 people from nine different churches. The baseball outreach naturally led to Friday night outreaches – community events with games and biblical teaching. Today, Freedom Fire includes outreaches, 1-on-1 mentoring, and tutoring programs.
Bruce’s role has grown and evolved throughout his time at Freedom Fire. “I have what I like to call the ‘Tom Sawyer anointing,’” he said. “I’m an initiator…but I get other people to whitewash the fence.”
Bruce has continued to initiate and build new programs, including ways to reach the adults in his community. Because Freedom Fire began 18 years ago, many of the children who started as students in the program have grown to adulthood, but their need to learn and grow did not stop. Freedom Fire ministers to adults now too, particularly through the neighborhood church that they have planted, called Freedom Covenant Church.
No matter what program Freedom Fire develops, sharing the Gospel has always been the most important thing to Bruce and others in the ministry.
“The Gospel has always been first,” he said. “If we just feed people or give handouts, that’s nice for the moment. But I believe in eternity. I believe in heaven….As Tim Keller says, ‘When you put the Gospel first, stuff happens.’”
One day, Bruce was outside the Freedom Fire offices, talking with a mother who was waiting for her son to finish with his program.
“Coach Bruce,” she asked suddenly, “why are you here in this neighborhood?”
“Well,” Bruce said, “I think this is where Jesus would want to hang out.”
“Oh,” she said. “Okay.”
That was the end of the conversation, but Bruce loves seeing God work on the people in his community through the message of the Gospel.
“One of my favorite movies in high school was Chariots of Fire,” he said. “In it the main character, Eric Liddell, said that when he runs, he feels the pleasure of God…. I feel the pleasure of God when I work here in the city.”
Have a question, comment, or encouragement for Bruce? Click here. To see the needs he has listed as prayer requests, click here. To give to Freedom Fire, click the “Donate now with PayPal” link on Freedom Fire’s home page.