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Grand Rapids welcomes US-2s

Two new US-2s serving in Grand Rapids

Shanquel Askew and Karis Brown arrived in Michigan in August. They are settling in and serving at United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids for the next two years.

Michigan Conference Communications

“From everywhere, To everywhere.” That describes the missionaries of The United Methodist Church. “Everywhere” is Michigan, Georgia, and Kansas for two new Global Mission Fellows serving as US-2s. In August, Shanquel Askew and Karis Brown began ministry at United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids, MI.

Michigan has long been blessed by the service of Global Mission Fellows, otherwise known as US-2s. Over the past 24 years, 18 US-2s have served in ministries located in Detroit and Kalamazoo. Grand Rapids became a placement site in 2021. Shanquel and Karis are currently the only US-2s at work in the state. Two more US-2s were assigned in 2024, one in Florida and the other in Washington.

United Methodist Community House is “all about community.” Children, youth, adults, seniors, and families living in southeast Grand Rapids have found “increased opportunities to succeed” thanks to programs at UMCH. The organization was founded in 1902 by women from Methodist churches in the neighborhood. Today, UMCH is one of the 90 National Mission Institutions of United Women in Faith.

Engaged with Families

Shanquel is the Family Engagement Coordinator for UMCH. Children 15 months to 5 years are involved in experiences that nurture development and prepare them to thrive in school and life. She does activities with children and assists teachers as needed. “I do a lot of classroom observations and suggest ways to improve that classroom,” she says. Monthly library events and professional development, such as a Mindful Course, contribute to the children’s emotional and social readiness.

Shanquel working with children at UMCH
Shanquel Askew finds her role at United Methodist Community House to be a great way to apply her Master of Social Work degree. She says, “The main reason I decided to be a US-2 is because I wanted to go outside Georgia and hone in on a different type of ministry than the one I was always involved in.” ~ photo courtesy United Methodist Community House

“Most days, I am sitting in the office researching and looking up different interventions and tools to make this program better,” Shanquel adds. She makes a difference in the lives of the families in her care by providing a “safe space” for them. “The parents see me as someone who is involved and interacting with their children and making them comfortable,” she notes. Shanquel finds joy in “seeing all the kids smiling and laughing.” She continues, “There’s the joy of just seeing growth and development of each child. It’s fun to see what they are learning. Seeing what I can and can’t do.”

~ “Meet the Staff Monday” social media post courtesy United Methodist Community House Facebook page

Learning the ins and outs of the new culture can be challenging. After only a month behind the desk, Shanquel has found it important to listen and reflect before “speaking up and saying something is not working.” Being in a Methodist program and being in Michigan are both new for her.

Shanquel is a member of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Macon, GA, active in youth and young adult ministry and the church’s food pantry. Shanquel earned her Bachelor of Science in psychology from Middle Georgia State University and a Master of Social Work with a concentration on child and family from Clark Atlanta University.

How did that bring her north to Michigan? “I was graduating this year with a Master of Social Work, and I thought, ‘Let’s go out of Georgia and try something different and new.’” She learned about Global Mission Fellows through a Google search. Shanquel thought, “That sounds interesting and started to see if it was the best route for me. I graduated, had one job in early summer, and now, I’m here!” She wanted to apply her social work degree. She feels she is fulfilling that goal with the families at Community House.

Addressing Food Insecurity

UMCH’s Fresh Market is where Karis shares their passion for helping people. While Community House has been around for 121 years, this program has been open on Division Street since 2020. Another US-2, Marie Rittenberry, helped with that set-up. “From when Marie started and I arrived, the market has changed. I am a newbie, so I will be learning for six months,” Karis reflects.

~ “Meet the Staff Monday” social media post courtesy United Methodist Community House Facebook page

Others manage the grocery store, stock the shelves, and work at the register. Karis’ role is community engagement and education. “We have this wonderful resource and locally grown food that we are selling to our community at cheap prices, but we find people don’t really know what to do with fresh produce. I hear, ‘What do you do with an eggplant?’” Karis plans to become more interactive with clients by teaching cooking classes alongside the work in social media and other Fresh Market advertising.

Karis explains that the Fresh Market model is based on dignity. “We don’t just want to run a food pantry. We want to give people economic independence. Fresh Market’s aim is to be an equitable, inclusive, accessible community.” There is plenty of high-priced and low-quality processed food available in the neighborhood at corner stores. “A food desert doesn’t mean that people are lying on the ground starving,” Karis notes. “It means there is very little access to nutritious food. It’s my job to let people know we are here to offer that.” Lunch Time at Fresh Market and Friday Farm Stand are ways that UMCH staff and families are becoming better acquainted with Fresh Market.

Karis is a member of Woodlawn United Methodist Church in Derby, KS. Since they were 10 years old, Karis has “been giving my life in service there, spending a lot of my free time with my mom, setting up vacation Bible school or taking care of children.”

Karis working at Fresh Market at UMCH
UMCH’s Fresh Market is in its third year on Division Street in Grand Rapids. Karis Brown notes, “We are not easily spotted. Part of my job is to make us more visible.” The market provides high-quality food at a cheap price. Karis knows the market is succeeding when people return asking, “Do you have fruit yet?” ~ photo courtesy United Methodist Community House

Karis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental studies from the University of Kansas with minors in journalism and anthropology. Karis was active at Wesley KU and the food ministry called Westwood House. “When I did my community meals,” Karis recalls, “I saw the impact that had on people, and I wanted to keep doing that.”

Global Mission Fellows was a way to continue in a life of service. Karis comments, “The Board of Global Ministries is very clear. You are not solving world hunger. You are not eliminating a major structural world issue. What you are doing is contributing time and effort and learning about solutions and how to get things done in the modern world.” As a sophomore, Karis attended a conference for young adults and learned about GMF. “A life of service. That’s always been my thing.” At graduation, Karis had the right degree and was the right age. “I applied, and here we are.” The placement at United Methodist Community House provided a new opportunity to address food insecurity in an urban setting.

Finding Life Paths

The opportunity to be a Global Mission Fellow appeals to a diverse group of young people. Shanquel, a lifelong Baptist, and Karis, a lifelong United Methodist, both are glad to be US-2s making a difference in the lives of others.

“Some of my friends are surprised, asking, ‘How did you stumble upon the Methodist world?’” Shanquel says. She adds that she was active at a Wesley Foundation of Macon as an undergrad and attended a graduate school affiliated with The United Methodist Church. “When I heard about the Methodists’ Global Mission Fellows,” Shanquel reports, “I was like, ‘As long as we’re talking about Jesus in one accord, I am willing to try it.’”

Karis states, “My goal since college has been to help as many people as I can. I want to heal as much pain as possible, in whatever small ways that I can.” Global Mission Fellows provides a “stepping stone” to work for a nonprofit. Placement at Community House is another stepping stone for Karis’ passion for feeding people.

Global Mission Fellows serve Christ around the world
“See Differently. Serve Differently.” Young adults, ages 20 to 30, are invited to become Global Mission Fellows of The United Methodist Church. Applications are now open for the 2024-2026 cohort. “You can change lives and see your life changing through this program.” ~ General Board of Global Ministries photo

What advice do they have for someone thinking about applying to be a Global Misson Fellow? “Read everything thoroughly and talk with others to make sure this is truly what you want to do,” Shanquel says. “Then just take a chance and see where you go!”

Karis has similar counsel. “Do it! This is a great opportunity. Do it, but know yourself because it is hard. Transplanting yourself into a new place, learning something new, and giving your time to a great cause can all sound romantic, but it’s hard.”

Neither Karis nor Shanquel had “missionary” on their lists of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But they both recommend Global Mission Fellows as a way to grow in faith and live in service.

In 2024, Shanquel and Karis will travel to Kenya. They will join other GMFs — US-2s and those on the International Track — to finish their training and be commissioned. They will then return to Michigan to bless the neighbors of United Methodist Community House through August 2025.

The General Board of Global Ministries has opened applications for the next cohort of Global Mission Fellows. GMF places young adults, ages 20 to 30, in social justice ministries for two years of service. Applicants will be onboarded in the spring of 2024 to begin service in the fall of next year. The US-2 program will accept applications through April 9, 2024. January 17, 2024, is the deadline for the International Track. More information will be found here. Lisa Batten coordinates the GMF program for the Michigan Conference. She can be reached at [email protected].

Note: Global Mission Fellows are included as Ministry Partners in Step 5 of EngageMI. Support for Shanquel Askew may be given through General Advance #3022760. Contributions to the ministry of Karis Brown may be given through General Advance  #3022762. Donations may be made online or by check payable to The Michigan Conference and mailed to Conference Ministry Shares, P. O. Box 72472, Cleveland, OH 44192-0002.

Last Updated on November 1, 2023

The Michigan Conference