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A conversation with Kayla Bilby

TULSA, Okla. — At the tender age of 20, Kayla Bilby already has made four mission trips to inner-city Houston and five to the Central American nation of Honduras.
She also serves the poor and downtrodden in her hometown. As part of the Contact Church of Christ, she shows God’s love to children from low-income families. The church is an urban ministry launched by the Park Plaza Church of Christ in Tulsa in 1999.
“I like to take her into the ‘hood because of the way she relates to children,” Ron Babbitt, a minister for the Contact church, said of Bilby. ” That spirit is a huge blessing to have.”
Bilby grew up at Park Plaza and is a junior at Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, pursuing a degree in religious education of children. She has recruited her uncle, brother, cousin, boyfriend and mother to teach classes with her at Contact. Her family includes parents Mickey and Shelly and brother Brent.
How did you become interested in inner-city ministry?  
I began attending Contact when I was 11. It wasn’t long before Ron Babbit was telling me that one day I would be working there full time in children’s ministry. At that point I thought he was just a crazy old man.
I began teaching classes and did my first internship at 13. After that summer, I was certain inner-city ministry was God’s calling for my life. I began taking mission trips and traveled to Honduras, Houston and the Dominican Republic. These trips served to grow my heart for the poor and for the broken, and I began to believe I was called to foreign ministry.  
In 2009 I visited Contact again, and Ron asked me, “When are you gonna repent and come run with me in the ‘hood?”  
I replied, “I can start in May.” Since then, I have never thought about going anywhere else.
What do you wish people better understood about ministering to poor children?
Ministering to the poor is not simply running a charity. It’s not just providing shoes, clothes or food. These children need so much more than the temporary things of this life. They need people to stand in the gap — people who love and believe in them regardless of the circumstances that they live in or the choices that they make.  
I wish churches would recognize inner-city ministry as a mission field. All of the ministers at Contact, myself included, have to fully raise their support just like in foreign mission work. To date, raising enough to cover personal expenses has been one of the most challenging parts of my ministry.
What have you learned from your experiences with underprivileged families?
One of the blessings of the inner city is that I get to meet people where they are, not where I want them to be. At first, kids are not going to trust me, and as time goes by, they are going to act out just to see if my love is genuine.
I will never understand where they come from. Seeing it has opened my eyes, but I cannot understand.
Ministry is not mathematical. If you can’t find the 100, find the one. I have learned not to let loss be Satan’s stepping stone.
Success comes in giving it to the Lord and trusting that he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to the power that is at work within us.   
What are some things that children have said to you that have touched your heart?   
I had the opportunity to bless a 6-year-old boy from church with much-needed shoes and socks. While teaching the following Sunday, I asked the children to explain how they know that God is in fact real.
This same young man said, “God bought me a new pair of shoes this week!” Once again, God took the temporary and made it into an eternal opportunity.
Ministry is not about me or a new pair of shoes; it is about a child having the opportunity to know his creator on a personal level. The shoes will wear out, but that child’s soul will last an eternity.
Does a ministry to children provide genuine opportunities to lead children and their families to Jesus?
Absolutely! Every Sunday I have my Contact kids sing the “Crown Song,” and we talk about the importance of heaven. A few months ago, one of my 5-year-old girls came up to me and said, “Miss Kayla, can we sing to my mama?”
I was privileged to hear this little girl sing, “Mama, I want to see you up in heaven when life is through. I want to be with Jesus, and, Mama, I want you to be there too.”
I cannot help but believe that God uses his children to speak volumes to the adults around them — including their parents. Everyone is reachable, and God uses different people and a variety of circumstances to accomplish his goal of leading all his children to heaven.
Do you have a special story of a child that stands out?
Last summer I was doing a Bible study with one of the girls about anger. I asked her what made her angry.
She replied, “I don’t even have a bed! I sleep on the floor with a sheet!” Not having a bed to sleep in was stripping this young woman of her dignity.
I cried all the way home that night. After spending time in prayer, I began making phone calls. Park Plaza has a furniture ministry, and they agreed to donate eight brand-new beds. Within a few days, we were able to deliver the beds to this family. The 4-year-old daughter had never had a bed before.
She would not let me get out the door before putting sheets on her bed. The smile on her face lit up my world. I have never been more humbled.
What do you mean when you call these children “my kids?”
I have been asked this question many times. I refer to them as “my kids” because I love them, pray for them, cry with them and stand in the gap for them. I have invested in these children.
Real relationships do not happen in a 45-minute class once a week. The relationships I have formed with the kids have taken place when they are spending time in my home with my family.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul speaks of sharing your life with the people you minister to. I am willing to share my life as well as the Gospel with “my kids.”
What about your kids makes you cry?
One of the most difficult things to handle is the lack of self-worth. Because these kids do not receive the love and nurture they desperately need, they find their value in their abilities or what they are able to offer.
Recently, one of the boys informed me, “Your family loves me, but no one else does. You guys are all I’ve got!” It breaks my heart to watch as the kids feel unloved and devalued. I have spent many nights praying about how to convey to these kids that their value comes from their heavenly father. Until they truly understand that he gives them value that cannot be taken away, they cannot fully understand the Gospel.
What about your kids gives you joy?
One of the blessings in ministry is when one of your kids really “gets” it.
A few weeks ago, one of my 4-year-olds came running and wanted to tell me the Bible story he learned in class. He said, “Miss Kayla, the man didn’t do what God wanted. So he got thrown in the sea and the whale ate him. The man cried and he got spit out. Then he did what God wanted.”
It was amazing to hear a 4-year-old recall the story of Jonah in his own words. Another one of my kids was able to share with Ron every miracle Jesus performed that we have learned about so far this semester. Watching the kids really begin to grasp who their Lord is has been the greatest reward I have ever been given.

What words do you have for other young people who may be looking for a special ministry?
I believe that we all have been called to share the Gospel. Sometimes God is calling you to the ministry that was always there, right in front of your eyes.
If you truly want to be involved in a special ministry, open your eyes and open your heart. Allow God to direct your path. When he shows you where you have been called, act on that call — even if it seems too small to be significant and even if the situation seems completely hopeless. Put your trust in the Lord, and never forget that it only takes the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains.
Read Kayla Bilby’s blog at www.kaylabilby.blogspot.com.

Filed under: Dialogue

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