Celebrating 20 years of Sojourner Truth Ministry
sojourner is defined as “a person or group residing, either temporarily or permanently, in a community and place that is not primarily their own and is dependent on the ‘good-will’ of that community for their continued existence.” Since it began, Sojourner Truth Ministry has seen many “sojourners” come through the doors of the mission on High Street. Twenty years ago, a group of Methodist clergy felt a burden for Williamsport. They spent time walking around the city praying and it was during that time that one of the members of the group had a dream of a wheel with a center hub with spokes radiating out from it. “The hub in that dream was Sojourner Truth Ministry and all the spokes were different churches in the area,” said Pastor C. Angelique Labadie-Cihanowyz, executive director.
The ministers envisioned that the ministry would be set up in a way that churches wouldn’t have to have little silo ministries, but that they could connect and be connected with what was already going on here. “It’s really neat to see that come to fruition in a different way, because now we have all different kinds of denominations. It’s not strictly Methodists and we’re crossing these bridges with them,” she said. “When they started, they started off with visiting on porches. and doing small groups on porches. Then they were offered this building when the church closed. They purchased it for $1 and they have had groups coming ever since,” she added. Through the years, various groups have met at the facility, such as a sewing group whose handiwork graces the wall at Sojourner — a quilted depiction of Noah’s ark they created. There was a garden for a season. Bible study groups have met in the building and then eventually the ministry evolved into primarily a food outreach.
Over the years, different people have imprinted their visions on the ministry. Since she arrived three years ago, Labadie-Cihanowyz has expanded the after-school snack program to include homework help, mentoring and a Bible story for area children. “It is small in size, but for the children who come there is just a very clear affection between them and the volunteers who come. Those kids get one-on-one attention, sometimes even more than that and they really thrive in it,” she said. Labadie-Cihanowyz said that sometimes the person in charge will tell her about a child who has received behavioral reports and has been asked to not to come to school for awhile. “You wouldn’t know that by the way they are here,” she added.
“It just tells me how much this is needed even though they don’t put words into it because we love those children.” During the pandemic, the program was modified. “The person in charge brought meals and worksheets and did porch visits,” she shared. Now the program is back to once a week. “They got a spot at the community garden. So they’re working there and doing some kind of unofficial horticulture therapy and learning all kinds of lessons. Then they come back here to get a meal. It is our hope that it will continue and grow,” she said. A grant from the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania is enabling Sojourner to purchase new computer equipment. “So, the kids can do homework. They can work on things after school if they choose and our House of Hope residents can use that room, which locks from both sides so when one group is there the other won’t have access,” she said. She said that volunteers
have come forward who would like to do adult education. There is a Bible study going on right now.
“We just had a series on racial reconciliation. Because we have about a 40% illiteracy rate, we use movies to help drive home some of our points and the discussion openings. And then we tie that in with our Biblical lessons, like at the foot of the cross, we take this off and we’re all the same. It may be the same storm, but we’re all in different boats,” she said. “Some people shared their own histories…and it was powerful.” Although the series is done for now, she would like to see it brought back.
“We put in so much work, we’d like to do it again,” she added. Sojourner recently began accepting candidates in their “House of Hope,” a residence where women can get help to move beyond homelessness. Plans are to have a celebration of Sojourner Truth’s 20 years of ministry on Sept. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at their location, 501 High St. “We are having a big shindig and celebrating the ministry that was and is to come. We are inviting anyone who has been involved with the ministry over the last 20 years and people who are curious about what we’re doing,” Labadie-Cihanowyz said. “It’s going to be a really big deal.”