30 Year Timeline

When we started MLF 30 years ago, our intent was to create an “umbrella” from under which urban ministries, urban leaders and area churches could create, grow and sustain holistic, Christ centered ministry in Memphis’ most under resourced communities in order to impact the shalom or well being of the whole city. Originally, this was a difficult concept to grasp.  Folks were used to someone starting a nonprofit that focused, for example, on urban youth evangelism or providing housing for the homeless.  But the creation of an umbrella and leadership organization that could ‘facilitate’ the growth of urban ministry and the development of urban leaders had never been done.
Well… it has worked and continues to leverage huge ministry in our city. Currently, MLF not only continues to incubate and train urban leaders, creating solid platforms for urban ministry but also provides the administrative ‘back office’ support for a number of great ministries in our city, thus reducing duplication of services and associated costs.
Looking back, the idea not only worked but has leveraged huge impact in our city that possibly would never have happened without the leadership, administrative support, financial assistance, training and encouragement provided by MLF over these past 30 years.


1987 - 1988 - 1989 - 1992 - 1993 - 1994 


As soon as MLF was established, the first opportunity that presented itself was Streets Ministries. Ken Bennett had a vision for taking the Good News to young people living in the public housing communities in South Memphis. He had passion, skills and a heart for some of Memphis’ poorest kids. In fact, the housing developments around Booker T. Washington High School and Vance Middle School were included in one of the poorest zip codes of all of America. MLF supported Ken’s idea and vision….and Ken, armed with only a beat up van and a love for Christ started STREETS in 1987. Streets’ first ministry site was in the local community centers, then a local church and finally a refurbished building on Vance, just east of Vance Middle School. Today, Streets has two beautiful sites, one still in South Memphis and the new one next door to Kingsbury High School. Streets is arguably one of the best urban youth ministry models in the country.  One of MLF”s mantras was to empower ministry leaders to develop self-sustaining ministries and one day, if possible, develop their own board of directors and become independent non-profit organizations.  While we don’t mandate this process, Streets Ministries became a separate non-profit in 1997 and continues to reach young people with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Our next endeavor involved economic development in partnership with World Vision. In 1987, Memphis had high employment and there were thousands of men and women who had lost their jobs due to a downturn in the economy.  We designed a ministry that would not only share the Gospel, but provide an avenue for unemployed and underemployed men and women in the heart of Memphis get back into the workforce. MEMPHIS JOBS was able to get literally thousands of people back to work. This ministry worked in close partnership with urban churches as together we encouraged our brothers and sisters who had begun to spiral downward because of job loss or jobs that didn’t pay a liveable wage.  The economic impact of MEMPHIS JOBs was huge, easily in the millions of dollars…but just as importantly was the spiritual and emotional impact that was made as self esteem was reborn and the sure knowledge that there were people at Memphis Jobs and urban churches who cared enough to open some door.




Late in 1987 and early 1998, MLF was approached by a local urban congregation and their denomination to think about the then develop a ministry that would address teen, out of wedlock pregnancy. Statistically, an unwed urban teenage mother is pretty much doomed to a life of poverty and survival.  And out of wedlock teen pregnancy was and continues to be a huge problem in every urban area of our country.  So working with the Black Caucus of Memphis Presbytery, Adolescents and Adults Sharing Knowledge was created, an outreach ministry to hundreds of young people with the message of God’s grace and His desire for their lives which included abstinence until marriage.


Affordable and safe housing is always difficult to access for low to moderate income families living in the heart of Memphis.  Due to ‘white flight,’ to the suburbs, loss of jobs in the city’s core, or, now evern ‘regentrification’ of more affluent families back into the city, much of the housing stock is in disrepair with little to no new construction that is affordable and energy efficient.  In 1988, Joe Ann Ballard, Executive Director of a sister ministry, Neighborhood Christian Centers approached MLF with a novel idea. They had created a program called Interim House which was a transitional housing ministry that empowered families towards home ownership.  MLF partnered with them to take the idea to a bigger scaled. In 1989, Neighborhood Housing Opportunities was born as a result and since then more than 300 homes have been built by NHO and purchased by low to moderate income families in four communities. In 1988, driven by market realities, NHO added a property management arm to its efforts called Neighborhood Housing Opportunities Management that today, in 2012, manages 100 unites of safe, decent rental housing.  NHO, like Streets Ministries, became a separate non profit organization.


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MLF again partnered with World Vision in 1992 to create an outreach ministry to Amerasian refugees who were being relocated to Memphis. Today, that ministry has grown to reach a number of refugee groups and immigrants . Now Called MultiNational Ministries, (formerly known as Amerasian Ministries) this ministry works in partnership with numerous churches to provide a cool cup of water to the stranger in our midst.  Though we initially focused on adultsin the area of job training, placement, relief, medical care, our energy these days is primarily focused on young people.  Children and families from five continents can be found on Monday afternoon at the Memphis Leadership Foundation offices where Multinational Ministries holds their programs.  The world has come to Memphis, right on our doorsteps.  Jesus commanded us to make disciples in Jerusalem (our city or community), Judea (the suburbs and exurbs), Samaria and the ends of the earth.  Well, the ends of the earth are coming to cities and Memphis is one of them!


In 1992 and 1993 MLF organized a citywide “evangelistic/racial reconciliation” series event that occupied two weeks of city wide “crusade” type meetings. Called LifeFocus ’93.  120 churches were involved. Assemblies were held in 65 public high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.  Close to 30,000 people attended a series of events at The Pyramid.  We focused this initiative on Racial Reconciliation.  Around the world, Memphis is too often known as the city that killed Martin Luther King.  Our history is marred with racial division and strife.  As believers, we cannot tolerate racism…we must confront it..confront ourselves…confront our churches, businesses and leaders and point to a better way: the way of Christ in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, barbarian or Scythian, male nor female, for we are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:20). LifeFocus was designed to demonstrate that oneness in Christ and was a marvelous testimony to that reality..

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As a result of LifeFocus the Urban Youth Initiative (UYI) was created. UYI was developed to train, fund anddeploy an “army” of youth outreach workers in our cities primarily through urban churches to reach our most unreachable youth. Today, the UYI is a separate non-profit organization. that has funded close to 300 of these workers at an expense in excess of 15 million dollars.

In the same year the MLF created a partnership with Christ United Methodist to address the juvenile crime problem in Memphis. Mediation and Restitution/Reconciliation Services (MARRS) was created to turn first and second time juvenile offenders from crime to Christ.  Since 1993, over 2,000 youthful offenders have been “diverted” from juvenile court to this program that has worked in partnership with over 60 churches and organizations.