By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
When Matt Rittscher graduated from high school, he left to attend Kansas State University.
After changing majors a couple of times, the Kismet native graduated last May, and he spent last summer in Montana. After that, he made his way back home before going to Birmingham, Ala.
Rittscher works for a program called Greater Works, which places interns in needy communities.
“There are currently four locations this year,” he said. “I am placed in the one in Birmingham, Ala., in a suburb called Fairfield.”
Rittscher said the Alabama location has much of an inner city feel, and he and three other interns have been placed in a house inside the community and asked to serve 30 ministry hours a week. He said Greater Works allows the group much freedom in how that time is used.
“If we really desire to learn about homeless ministry, we can go work at a shelter, or if we want kind of the more social justice, we can help out in civil court,” he said. “We really make the ministry be what we want it to be while we’re here. They just ask that we have 30 hours.”
Rittscher said his group works closely with a local church’s youth group, but his 30 hours consists mainly of a combination of men’s outreach and maintenance.
“The community is so impoverished, and all of the houses are from turn of the century, literally,” he said. “All of them are falling down. The people that own the houses don’t have the tools or the skills to repair them.”
Nor do they have the money to do so, according to Rittscher.
“Usually at church, someone comes up to me and talks about something they need fixed, and I’ll schedule a time at the end of church,” he said. “If that list requires a few things I can use a hand with, I actually call a couple of the local guys who are jobless. They’ll come and join me, and they’ll work with me for the day. We’ll repair the maintenance request.”
Rittscher said he can give the workers an $8 an hour salary, and this helps them out and gives them knowledge in the field.
“It’s been really good to hang out with the homeowners and really talk to them as well as create really good relationships with some of the guys who regularly work with me,” he said.
The youth group Rittscher and his fellow interns lead is a group of 20 individuals from rough backgrounds. He also assists with a prison ministry on occasion.
“I’m getting training for that right now,” he said. “I don’t exactly know what all that’s going to look like though. The idea is being an intentional neighbor and figuring out how we can help with the idea of developing a community with just simply taking care of our lawn and our house.”
Rittscher said all of this is a great opportunity to learn what ministry looks like.
“I was interested and decided to give it a shot,” he said. “I applied, and I got stationed here in Birmingham.”
Rittscher said he first got interested in missions work after attending a conference in 2006.
“While I was there, I felt a calling from the Lord to pursue missions in Southeast Asia,” he said. “He hasn’t really given me a time frame for that, and I don’t really feel it’s time yet.”
In his current position, Rittscher said he is not only serving Birmingham, but also learning how to serve the culture of the Alabama community.
“Even though it’s still very much America, it’s definitely different than the agricultural-based middle class culture that I come from back home,” he said. “Learning how to learn about another culture is what I think one of the main reasons I came.”
Rittscher said when he eventually discovers that it is time to head to Southeast Asia, he will have some experience under his belt. Going into mission work, he had a very idealistic attitude, something which is easy to do, but he said seeing the situation up close has changed his viewpoint.
“A lot of experiences this year have really opened my eyes to things I never thought of,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to determine right and wrong.”
Rittscher said one of the values he has tried to take to the world from Southwest Kansas is pride.
“I think pride in your possessions, which has definitely been a challenge,” he said. “A lot of times in impoverished communities, a majority of someone’s possessions have been given to them, and they haven’t had to work for it, which makes it very hard for them to respect that and treat it as they should. One of the things I’ve been trying to teach through work is taking pride in your work and your possessions.”
Rittscher likewise takes a strong work ethic to the rest of the world.
“I realize people from the agriculture heartland have a much stronger work ethic,” he said. “They understand the job is done when it’s done. I’m going to stay here and do a good job until it is.”
In addition to his work in Birmingham, Rittscher did some training in Denver and some work on a South Dakota Native American reservation, as well as spending a great deal of time in upstate New York, which he said is a little different from Southwest Kansas.
“I worked with a lot of people from all over, and I’ve always been proud of my work ethic and my heartland upbringing and my home values,” he said.
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