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Indiana Youth Ministry Bridges Racial Divide with Local Church

Indiana Youth Ministry Bridges Racial Divide with Local Church
BJ Magley, initiator of the girls mentorship program and cofounder of Heroes Camp, at the facility's Kattie P. Simmons Dining Commons, named after Magley’s mother.
Linda L. Hanstra

Chris Rea, pastor of Church of the Savior Christian Reformed Church in South Bend, Ind., said the congregation is being led into “a listening and learning experience” of mentorship with Heroes Camp, a neighboring ministry to boys without a father in their lives. “We couldn’t make this happen on our own as a church,” Rea said. Instead, the church has relied on the leadership of Heroes Camp co-founder BJ Magley.

Magley and her husband, Pat, started Heroes Camp 31 years ago, with a focus on giving boys without involved fathers a place to play basketball, create music, get a good meal, and be challenged spiritually. Magley’s dream of a new kitchen and cooking school have recently been added as well. Church of the Savior, less than a mile away, has provided prayer and financial support since 2009.

After years of building a trusting, open relationship, Magley approached Pastor Rea about extending Heroes Camp’s benefits to girls. Her vision for “BJ Magley’s Modern School of Etiquette for Girls and Young Women,” was to reach at-risk girls from single-parent homes, who she had seen fall into unhealthy and self-defeating lifestyles of hopelessness.

Rea recalls that when Magley approached her, it was due to “concern for at-risk girls, but also for racial reconciliation … for young women of color and white women to interact when they are too often segregated from one another.” Heroes Camp primarily serves minority populations, while Church of the Savior is predominantly white.

Magley’s request was an answer to prayer for Church of the Savior, whose leadership had been asking the Holy Spirit for community outreach opportunities. Julia Lincicum, a Master of Divinity student at the University of Notre Dame and member of the church, also couldn’t have asked for better timing, as the request coincided with her search for a yearlong volunteer intern position in parish ministry. Lincicum was thrilled to assist Magley in making her vision a reality. The program kicked off in December 2020.

Magley’s enthusiasm inspired volunteers, Lincicum said. In a training session for mentors Magley explained the challenges these girls face, which are often far outside the mentors’ experiences. “BJ has energy, vision, resolve, and joy in abundance. I felt like we showed up and just soaked in the beautiful energy of Heroes Camp and rolled with it. … The Holy Spirit in her is really beautiful, and the way she loves on kids catches on like fire,” Lincicum said.

At least 11 church members (five direct mentors) have participated in three events since December. Seven girls, ages 11-13, were paired up with mentors. They attended mini-retreats, heard inspiring speakers, and dined out together. Most importantly, according to Magley, “they learned through the story of Esther that their lives are a treasure.” 

In the months to come the church plans to provide Christmas baskets to the girls’ families and to hold another mini-retreat over the holidays. Lincicum enjoyed the one-on-one time of conversation with her mentee between structured activities. Through it, she discovered “that in our lives of faith, doing those little things with as much love as possible is far more important than meets the eye.”

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