Bridges in the Valley - 118 Designs

The Rainier Valley is diverse in race, religious and socioeconomic culture—which is a beautiful thing; however, sometimes the same differences that can make a community culturally rich can also clash and erupt in violence.

Located in the heart of the Valley, 118 Designs is a program run by Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. It was launched by Bobby Martin, who is a former youth director at the Mission’s Youth Reach-Out Center (YROC). He felt the need to start a discipleship program that also addresses the economic needs of young men in the community and was motivated to start the program after reading and hearing about kids he knew becoming involved in criminal activities and gang culture.

Taking the metaphor of reclaimed lives for Christ—118 Designs uses discarded wood to make beautiful

furniture. Learning woodworking skills and carpentry the men have started a business and sell their furniture through catalog orders. They are equipped to make furniture for church cafes, youth group rooms and even make high-quality tables and Barbecue cabinets. Talking about the business and how it’s growing, Martin claims, “We aren’t looking for donations, we are looking for work”. Martin knows that if 118 Designs didn’t offer a paycheck, the gentlemen in the program wouldn’t initially be interested in signing up. However, as they’ve grown to trust each other and have learned about Christ’s love, they now see the bigger picture as Martin says, “They believe in the movement of 118 and what God is trying to do through us to reach this neighborhood.”

During a recent bible study, the group discussed the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand in the Gospel of John. The person they focused on sometimes gets overlooked in the story, the disciple Andrew. When Jesus asks the disciples how they are to feed such a large crowd, it is Andrew who connects the boy with the fish and loaves to Jesus. He acted out on faith—while he must have known that small amount could not possibly feed so many hungry folks, it allowed Jesus the pathway to provide much with so little. Andrew’s actions resonated with the guys, and they now identify themselves as a bridge to their community—connecting the limited resources available in the 118 to the abundant and transformative love of Christ.

One direct way to bridge the pain the community feels, is to build what Martin calls a “Wall of Lament” for the community—a safe place where people can hang up art, letters or photos of loved ones who have passed, or express emotions that often get pent up and fester. The plan is to build this wall out of the same materials used to build their furniture—discarded scraps of wood—and have the community involved in planning where it resides, potentially moving in different locations that would be neutral territory.

Transformation is often a slow process, something that isn’t always easy to see until months or years pass. However, the men in 118 Designs are examples of lives that have been radically changed by the Gospel and have a passionate desire to bridge the community with Jesus.

Call to action: if you’d like to help 118 Designs build the Wall of Lament or become involved with discipleship or woodworking/carpentry, please contact Bobby Martin. If you’d like to order any of their new line of products, please take a look at their catalog:

118 Furniture catalog.

-Nathan Ryan

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