On a normal weekday afternoon in Lima, Ohio, what was once a rundown warehouse is hopping after school. A few kids play pick-up basketball; some grip video game controllers, engaged in a serious NBA Live match; others vie for homework help from a member of St. John Mennonite Church.
The place is Rally Point , a project with three components. In the after-school program, youth gather to hang out, use computers, or get individual help with their homework. During the Wednesday night program, called Revive, neighborhood kids gather to study the Bible. In the summer jobs program, the staff place 25 teenagers in real work situations, allowing them to earn money and gain experience in office and trade settings.
This nexus of hope exists because 22-year-old Jared Diller had a vision he couldn’t shake.
Like many Midwestern towns, Lima has suffered the loss many factory jobs, which were once the economic lifeblood of this northwestern Ohio town. According to demographic information, nearly a quarter of the town’s population lives below the poverty line, and nearly a third of those under 18 are impoverished.
Diller wanted to find a way to minister to the kids who lived in the six low-income housing complexes in the north end of Lima.
One of these students is Bri Thompson*, an eighth-grader who grew up in a home plagued by substance abuse and violent language. From an early age, she said, she had considered suicide.
One day, though, Diller invited her to join a small group Bible study at a youth center called Rally Point. She went—and then went the next week, and the week after that.
After a few months of attending the Bible studies, she was given the opportunity to travel to Indianapolis, Ind., to take part in a weeklong mission trip. It transformed her.
“The mission trip changed my whole life around,” she said. “If it wasn’t for [Rally Point], I have no idea what kind of trouble or things I would be into.”
Diller had just graduated from college and was working for a nonprofit agency teaching computer skills to job seekers on welfare when the idea for Rally Point began to germinate. But he needed to discern whether his dream and God’s plans for his life were in alignment.
At his pastor’s leading, he signed up for RAD (Reaching and Discipling), a former Mennonite Mission Network program in which young adults explored ministry opportunities in various contexts, both international and domestic.
“My choice to go into RAD was to dedicate time to focus on whether this is what God had for me—to set that time out to be able to seek God’s plan and also just a desire to be a disciple in a real intentional way.”
While in RAD, Diller spent three months in training, three months serving in Denver, and eight months in Northern Ireland as a RAD team leader.
During the training period, he volunteered at the Powerhouse Youth Center in New Haven, Ind. It was there that he felt affirmed in his ministry dream.
“That was just a very good time of understanding what an outreach to unchurched kids is like,” he said. “They taught me a lot about how to reach out. God used that experience to confirm that this was the type of ministry he was forming in Lima.”
In Denver, Diller worked for DOOR, a Mennonite Mission Network program that invites youth groups into the city to serve at various agencies. He learned to know more than 20 social service organizations in Denver, and helped lead youth groups in carrying out service projects all over the city—further valuable ministry experience.
Amy and Jared Diller.
After finishing up his nearly two years of service, he returned to his home community, got engaged to a longtime friend and RAD alum, Amy Macke, and was married after 11 months of dating. After a year, the couple headed to Macon, Ga., for a yearlong internship with Powerhouse Youth Center, which was part of the same network of youth centers Jared served with in New Haven. With one more year of experience, they felt they were ready.
“At the end of that year, we started laying a foundation and groundwork for establishing a youth center in the north end of Lima,” he said.
The center, having just celebrated its sixth anniversary in January, serves 75 teens each month through its three programs.
Diller, now 35, said Rally Point wouldn’t exist without the grace of God, solid ministry-in-action training through RAD, and support from his church, St. John Mennonite Church in Pandora, Ohio. The congregation has been especially supportive in helping the Dillers raise their three young children.
“We’ve been very blessed by our congregation and our church leadership throughout the process,” he said. “They have supported us financially; we have people from our congregation that come and volunteer at the youth center on a weekly basis."
“Mission Network programs are not meant to be single-serving experiences,” said Darrell Gascho, program director for Radical Journey. “We hope people use the lessons they learn while on service to continue ministering their entire lives. Jared’s ministry is an outstanding example of the kind of leaders we are trying to form.”
* Name was changed to protect identity.
For immediate release.
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.