Jon Huebner wanted to help.
So he went door to door, distributing school supplies. Pencils, notebooks, folders — he passed out the provisions and enjoyed the resulting smiles.
Then the unexpected happened.
A woman carrying a 2-year-old toddler approached Huebner. He anticipated her to ask for a coloring book or crayons. Instead, she asked, “Will you adopt my daughter?”
This was not the first time the missionary had been presented with such a proposition. Years earlier, he was doing similar work — ministering to people in low-income housing apartments — when he stumbled upon a child abandoned by his mother. That child became Huebner’s oldest son. So, without hesitation, Huebner accepted the girl, and within months, he and his wife, Beth, welcomed the child into their family. Now, they’re happier for having done so.
“That’s what ministry can do,” Huebner said. “It has changed my life. When you allow God to work, lives will change.”
He’s seen it happen in his own family. Now, the Clarkesville resident wants to help grow the lives of those living in Hall County.
As pastor of the newly formed church, In His Name, Huebner and almost 25 ministry students from the University of North Georgia travel to numerous low-income housing communities in the county, doing missions work such as forming after-school programs, giving guitar lessons, providing rides for those needing transportation, teaching English classes and holding church services.
“It truly is a calling from God,” he said.
As a student, the former Texas resident planned on majoring in missions, and he foresaw a future traveling the world spreading the word. Instead, he found a position at Mission Arlington, a nonprofit that traveled to apartment homes and set up support groups for the residents.
“When I originally went to seminary, my plan was to go overseas and do international missions,” Huebner said. “Then, when I started to work with the organization in Texas, most of them didn’t speak English, and I was reaching out to people from Mexico, South America, China, India, Pakistan. So, I was doing international missions without going far away.”
Through that position, Huebner found his calling. He served Mission Arlington for 17 years before he and his family moved to Northeast Georgia, from which his wife originated.
With no real concrete plans, Huebner began looking for opportunities to serve. Again, he said, God intervened.
Unknown to Huebner, a group of Gainesville residents had traveled to Texas and witnessed the work of Mission Arlington and wanted to start a similar group in Hall County.
“They were looking for someone to start a similar ministry here, and I just kind of showed up on their doorstep,” he said. “How I got here is providence. I believe God had a hand in leading me here.”
Hearing the message
Not even a year ago, Huebner accepted the challenge of forming In His Name. In the following months, he has set up ministry bases in Tower Heights and Melrose apartments. He has about 40 people involved with the church, either as volunteers or parishioners, and their services have grown from door-to-door ministry to delivering weekly Sunday services.
“There’s a need for apartment outreach,” Huebner said.
He said about 95 percent of apartment dwellers forgo church for reasons varying from unawareness of services to inability to transport themselves to the services. Huebner added traditional church settings can intimidate those unaccustomed to it.
“What we do is provide a church right in the community,” he said. “Many of the people, they can’t drive or it’s difficult for them to get out. Or a lot of times, people don’t feel comfortable going to a traditional church, but they do feel comfortable coming to see us. We’re very casual and come as you are.”
He said the laid-back environment provides a quality means of communicating the gospel to those who might not otherwise be reached.
“I just think that the best way you can reach people is to make them comfortable, so they can hear the word of God,” Huebner said. “Oftentimes people cannot hear the message because they might have something that’s getting in their way of hearing it. We’re here to break down those barriers.”
In His Name, which is a part of the Chattahoochee Baptist Association and supported by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, plans on expanding its services throughout more apartment communities, as well as reaching out to mobile home neighborhoods.
“The vision is that (In His Name) grows, that we extend by bringing more people in,” Huebner said.
The CBA shares the dream.
“So far, (In His Name) has been unbelievable,” said Rod Zwenke, who is a church planter with the organization. “It’s only been here a year, and they already have three, working on four, locations. There’s almost 100 communities in the greater Gainesville area, so that’s the goal, and so far, so good.”
Zwenke also said he envisions In His Name to partner with the CBA to help provide clothing, furniture and meals.
“It’s a hollistic approach that we want to eventually give the community,” he said.