When Corey Easterday, 24, and a team of volunteers first arrived at a Laundromat in inner-city Canton, Ohio, bearing quarters, laundry detergent and sandwiches, they met Dale. Dale had been living in his car and a motel for the past year.
“Laundry’s on us today,” Easterday told him. The team spent the next three hours paying for people’s laundry, providing supplies and feeding them in the name of Christ. An extension of a Florida nonprofit called Current, Laundry Love of Current of Ohio is a monthly ministry helping alleviate poor hygiene among lower-income families, homeless or those with mental disabilities. Dale now attends every laundry project and has found a job and apartment.
It’s a microcosm of the incarnational ministry happening in the city through LoveCanton, a “church of small churches” planted by RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio. Former Pastor Greg Nettle (who left RiverTree in late 2013 to become president of church-planting organization Stadia) launched the missional endeavor five years ago when he realized members’ volunteerism at the homeless shelter wasn’t enough to address the inner city’s poverty and hunger.
“As much as we served, we would never be one of them,” he says. “The best way to make disciples is by living among them.”
LoveCanton does just that. It’s comprised of seven small “villages” of 25-50 members, many sent from RiverTree, who have moved into specific neighborhoods. With RiverTree’s ongoing support, members do task-based serving to meet immediate needs and build one-on-one discipleship relationships in their own neighborhoods. Easterday’s village, Common Ground, does laundry; other villages partner with soup kitchens or hold clean-up days or after-school programs.
Discipleship relationships are now top priority for RiverTree, says urban missionary Jason Lantz, who leads LoveCanton with his wife, Suzi.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop intentional, consistent, Jesus-centered relationships while we are serving. That is the most effective way for any of us to see lasting life change.”